Salt: Do health policymakers meet the limits they recommend? Guess

Those that can’t do … set policy? We’ve been advised by the government to slash our salt intake. But do those on the policy-setting front lines practice what they preach?

Apparently not, according to an informal survey published in the journal BMJ’s special Christmas issue. Like smoking nurses or overweight doctors, they may be falling down on the job when it comes to their own daily habits -- aided and abetted by the fare served in their own cafeterias.

A disclaimer here: The study was done in the Netherlands. But let’s go out on a limb and assume that the Dutch are not likely to be more wild and reckless in their gustatory habits than Americans.

Lizzy Brewster of the University of Amsterdam and colleagues conducted their survey  in 18 cafeterias within the country’s Department of Health, Health Council, Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority as well as various hospitals. They figured that if anyone was adhering to the nation’s guidelines, it was likely to be these people, because “we assumed they would have a greater awareness of the risk of high salt intake.”


On three consecutive days, the team collected a “typical hot lunch” (soup plus a non-vegetarian hot dish) at each venue and assessed the salt content therein. They asked staffers how often they chose that particular hot-lunch item and found that 63/100 of the folks they interviewed did choose that hot lunch.

They found that the average salt content in the selected hot lunches was 7.1 grams (equivalent to 2,840 mg of sodium) and that the levels were much the same across the places they surveyed. The total daily recommended maximum intake in that country is 6 grams of salt (2,400 mg of sodium).

If you add in the other meals people ate (which, from interviews, the researchers got a sense of), the salt levels consumed in a typical day would climb far higher, the scientists estimated – more than twice as high.

In the U.S., adults 51 and over, all African Americans and those with high blood pressure and various other health conditions are advised in the government’s dietary guidelines to aim for an upper limit of 1,500 mg of sodium. Everyone else can go as high as 2,400 mg sodium.


Only a couple of hospitals and the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority had a policy on limiting salt, but that wasn’t reflected in the offerings in the cafeterias.

“It is impossible for policy makers to adhere to their guidelines for salt intake if they eat the hot lunch provided in their workplaces,” the authors conclude. As noted in a February Los Angeles Times article, “about 90% of sodium that people consume comes from restaurant or packaged food, not the salt shaker.”

You’ll find more health news at the L.A. Times Booster Shots blog. Check it out!