NEW YORK (AP) -- Shake that salt from your life -- even if you're healthy.
That, according to a National Institutes of Health study released Wednesday, is the latest line on salt, which has been the subject of back-and-forth studies on whether it really does raise blood pressure.
By cutting their salt intake in half, "all Americans, and especially those at high risk for hypertension, can decrease their chance of developing high blood pressure as they age," said Dr. Eva Obarzanek, a nutritionist with NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The study involved 412 people who were divided into two groups, both of which were put on low-salt diets for 14 weeks.
One group was put on the average American diet, with foods like roast beef, ham and turkey, along with high-fat sweets and some
fruits and vegetables. The other group was fed a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. But both diets contained the same amount of salt.
The group that ate the produce-rich diet saw a dramatic reduction of 8.9 points in systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) and 4.5 points in diastolic pressure.
But even those on the typical American diet saw their blood pressure drop -- an average of 6.7 points and 3.5 points, respectively.
The study was conducted at five leading medical institutions around the country and presented during the American Society of
Hypertension annual meeting in New York.
Forty-one percent of the participants had high blood pressure.
Obarzanek said the quickest way to reduce sodium intake is to cut down on processed foods -- for instance, certain spaghetti sauces in a jar and potato chips. She said people should also remove the salt shaker from the table, flavor foods with spices instead of salt, and check food labels.
"The food industry needs to lower the salt content of its products," said Dr. Frank Sacks, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "And we need help from the fast-food industry not to pre-salt that hamburger."