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Experts Challenge Americans to Reduce Salt Intake

FRIDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Americans can dramatically reduce their daily salt intake by cutting bread, cold cuts and cured meats from their diet, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Limiting condiments and reading nutritional labels are other ways to kick a high-sodium habit, the experts noted in an association news release. They also said people can change their palate and enjoy foods with less salt in just 21 days.

The heart and stroke experts are launching a three-week Sodium Swap Challenge on Jan. 7. The group is calling upon Americans to identify and track the Salty Six -- the foods in their diet loaded with extra salt that increase their risk for heart disease and stroke. The goal is for Americans to limit sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams each day. Currently, the typical American consumes more than twice that.

"To get started with the association's challenge, we ask that consumers get familiar with the food labels and nutrition facts for the foods they eat and track their sodium consumption over the first two days to get an idea of how much they are eating, which I'm sure will be surprising to many people," said Rachel Johnson, spokeswoman for the associations and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. "Then, over the course of the next three weeks, consumers will use the Salty Six as their guide to help lower their sodium intake."

During the first week of the challenge, Americans are asked to limit consumption of bread, rolls, cold cuts and cured meats. A slice of bread can contain more than 200 mg of sodium and one serving of turkey cold cuts as much as 1,050 mg. It's also recommended that you check food labels and track sodium consumption daily.

For the second week, Americans are asked to opt for lower-salt versions of pizza and poultry. The idea is to choose foods with less cheese or meat and more vegetables. Poultry should also be skinless and not processed or fried.

Focus on soup and sandwiches during the third week, the associations said. Soups often contain up to 940 mg of sodium per serving. Layering meats, cheese and condiments to a sandwich can add more than 1,500 mg of sodium.

After three weeks, the experts said challenge participants should notice a difference in how they feel after eating and how their food tastes.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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SOURCE: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, news release, Jan. 2, 2012