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More Stuff That's Bad For You: Salt Crackdown?

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If you're anything like us and still incorporate large quantities of instant ramen noodles into your diet (is that shameful for a food writer to admit?), this morning's news might cause more than a little worry. We woke to our local news broadcasters discussing yet another American health worry: salt. Apparently Americans consume 50% too much salt in their diet, much of it locked up in processed and canned foods, and the FDA is talking up a new crackdown on our little friend sodium chloride.

Too much salt in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other icky health issues (not to mention high-sodium foods often have a lot of fat as well). But it's put in lots and lots of foods because, well, it covers up other stuff (like that tinned-food taste) really well. But when a single serving of Cup Noodles contains 60% of your salt intake for the day??? Oof.

"The National Academy of Sciences recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, roughly the amount in a teaspoon of salt. The target is lower -- 1,500 milligrams -- for people at higher risk for high blood pressure, including those over 50 and African Americans. Americans typically consume about 4,000 milligrams of sodium daily.

The AMA cites estimates that 150,000 lives could be saved annually if the nation were to reduce its sodium consumption by 50%, a goal the doctors' group says can be attained within a decade."

But is it the government's job to regulate what Americans choose to consume? In Finland "government and industry have collaborated to bring about a 40% decrease in sodium consumption since the late 1970s, according to the AMA. In the United Kingdom, government regulators set voluntary sodium reduction targets for about 70 kinds of processed foods." But can Americans fathom the kinds of regulations that our more socialist European brethren don't even sneeze at? LAist asked this question a few weeks ago when we discovered that
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it might be easier to buy a gun in South Central than fresh fruits and veggies: city council members there are pushing to stop any construction of new fast food franchises in low income areas of the city. Opponents to this measure are using good ol' free will as an argument: who's to say you can't enjoy your burger and french fries if you want to? But others are pointing out that it's not really free will if you only have one choice -- if fast food is the cheapest source of nutrition, and it's everywhere you look, well -- who's going to cook organic chicken breast from Whole Foods for $10 when there's chicken sandwiches from Jack In the Box for $2?

Our suggestions for monitoring your own salt intake? Use low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular. Watch out for canned soups and pre-packaged noodles (oh Top Ramen!), which are loaded with the stuff. Limit your purchases of potato chips, snacks, frozen meals, and pretty much anything that comes packaged in a brightly colored plastic bag.