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IOM Urges FDA to Set Legal Limits on Salt in Processed Foods


At the urging of the American Medical Association and the Institutes of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration is planning an effort to set legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in processed foods. Lowering the amount of sodium even 10% could reduce American hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from hypertension and heart disease and save the government $32 billion in healthcare costs.

Eating a diet high in sodium is a major cause of high blood pressure, according to a report by the IOM. Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

"For 40 years we have known about the relationship between sodium and the development of hypertension and other life threatening diseases, but we have had virtually no success in cutting back the salt in our diets," said Jane Henney of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, who chaired the Institute of Medicine panel.

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The government guideline for sodium intake for most adults is 2300 milligrams a day; however the IOM says that this should be reduced to 1500 milligrams for optimal health. Americans eat, on average, around 3400 milligrams, largely due to processed, canned, fast food and restaurant foods.

In 2008, Congress asked the IOM to recommend strategies for reducing sodium intake. The agency recommended that the FDA and the USDA work with the food industry and recognized health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years. "The goal is to slowly, over time, reduce the sodium content of the food supply in a way that goes unnoticed by most consumers as individuals' taste sensors adjust to the lower levels of sodium."

Currently, food manufacturers do not have a limit to sodium content, but it must be accurately reflected on the food “Nutrition Facts” label.

Some manufacturers are stepping up ahead of any federal regulations. In March, PepsiCo Inc announced that it would reduce the average sodium per serving in major food brands, such as Frito-Lay and Quaker by 25% by 2015. Conagra, Kraft Foods, General Mills and Sara Lee are among others who are also reducing sodium in future products. The IOM is encouraging other restaurants, food-service firms and food and beverage manufacturers to also pursue voluntary sodium-reduction efforts.

Why wait for government action? Take steps to lower sodium intake on a daily basis by following a “perimeter” shopping pattern in the grocery store. Shop for mostly for fresh or frozen produce, lean meats and seafood, and low-fat dairy foods, which are usually positioned around the perimeter of the store. Try bulk grains instead of packaged, boxed versions. Avoid the center aisles when possible that are full of high-sodium canned foods, packaged pastas, salty condiments, and packaged snack foods. Learn to cook more with herbs and spices rather than salt, and you and your family will enjoy the natural fresh flavors of food without adding excess sodium.