AHA survey reveals poor understanding of diet’s impact on heart health

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Blood pressure, Hypertension

Most Americans erroneously think sea salt is lower in sodium than regular salt and nearly half think table salt is the primary sodium source in American diets, according to an American Heart Association survey.

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) survey of 1,000 US adults revealed a number of widespread misconceptions about diet and its relationship to heart health. Numerous studies have linked excess sodium consumption to risk of high blood pressure in some people, which is an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but 61 percent of survey respondents incorrectly agreed that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to regular table salt.

The AHA pointed out that most sea salt contains the same amount of sodium as regular table salt – about 40 percent.

Meanwhile, 46 percent said that salt added to food is the number one source of sodium in Americans’ diets, when it is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of US sodium intake is through consumption of processed foods.

American Heart Association spokesperson and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine Gerald Fletcher said: “High-sodium diets are linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. You must remember to read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list on food and beverages.”

Food manufacturers face renewed pressure to slash sodium from their products following the issuance of the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend an upper daily limit of 1,500mg for groups that are considered to be at increased risk of high blood pressure or heart disease, representing more than half of the US population, down from the previous recommendation of 2,300mg. The AHA recommends the lower 1,500mg sodium limit for all Americans, although only 24 percent of its survey respondents were aware of this recommendation.

Better education needed

In addition, although 76 percent of those surveyed agreed that drinking wine can be good for the heart, only 30 percent of respondents know the AHA’s recommended limits for daily wine consumption: 8oz for men, or about two small glasses, and 4oz, or one glass, for women.

“This survey shows that we need to do a better job of educating people about the heart-health risks of overconsumption of wine, especially its possible role in increasing blood pressure,”​ Dr. Fletcher said.

The AHA said that heavy and regular consumption of any alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically, and it can also contribute to heart failure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, high triglycerides, cancer and obesity.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of survey respondents reported drinking wine, the AHA said.

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