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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 21st, 2013
05:34 PM ET

Americans overdosing on salt

By Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham

Americans eat too much salt. The American Heart Association, presented several new studies today revealing that many of us are ingesting an overdose of sodium on a daily basis.

In the U.S., eating too much salt played a role in 2.3 million deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other diseases in 2010 alone. And Americans are passing these bad habits on to their kids. In a different study also released today, researchers found that three-quarters of pre-packaged meals and snacks for toddlers had way too much salt.

"We're not born liking salt, we develop a liking for it about 6 months of age," says Michael Moss, author of "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us."

The processed food industry hugely influential in shaping our taste for salt, adds the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

"Kids that are exposed to more processed foods ... are more apt to be licking the salt shaker by the time they're in preschool," says Moss.

Potato chips, and salty pre-packaged snacks are loaded with salt, but there are other, common foods, that are filled with salt.

"It is sort of shocking how many foods in the supermarket are so salty. Canned soup is just amazing," says Moss. "The single largest contributor of salt to the diet is actually bread, not because it is so salty but because we eat so much of it."

Breaking the salt habit is very difficult. It is essential to the food industry, which Moss says is hooked on the white stuff more than consumers are. Salt covers up bad flavors in highly processed food, and is so cheap that companies can avoid using more costly herbs and spices to flavor food.

Food company executives have known for years that they need to cut back on salt, says Moss. While researching his book, Moss says he visited Kellogg, and workers there made some of their most popular products without salt.

"It was the most godawful experience you ever imagined," says Moss. "Salt helps balance out these flavors that get in from the minerals and vitamins and other things we add so salt acts as a masking agent as well."

Hiding the salt shakers from the table, like restaurant chain Boston Market recently did, is not going to help much.

"The salt shaker contributes only about 6 percent or 7 percent of the salt in our diet," says Moss. "The majority is coming from processed foods and the typical main line restaurants that rely so heavily on salt."

"That's where the problem is and where the accountability has to come in for things to be changing meaningfully."

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