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    Voluntary vs. Mandatory Salt Reduction continued...

    Currently, the average American takes in more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium (equivalent to 8.5 grams or about 1.5 teaspoons of salt) a day, according to the IOM report.

    That's far more than the maximum intake level of 2,300 milligrams or about 1 teaspoon established under the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And a level of 1,500 milligrams per day is termed ''adequate" by the Institute of Medicine.

    Excess sodium is a major contributor to high blood pressure, according to experts. High blood pressure affects one in three U.S. adults, or about 75 million people age 20 or above, according to the FDA, and increases risk for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and kidney failure.

    IOM Recommendations

    The IOM recommends that the FDA gradually reduce the amount of salt that can be added to restaurant meals, foods, and beverages. Among the IOM's other recommendations:

    • Food labels should change to reflect the lower, more desirable salt intake. Now, the percentage of Daily Value for sodium on food labels, which tells how much of the recommended daily intake is in one serving, is based on 2,400 milligrams a day. IOM experts recommend it be changed to reflect the 1,500-milligram ''adequate'' level.
    • Food service providers as well as restaurants and food and beverage makers should step in and pursue voluntary efforts to reduce sodium, as the FDA effort is not expected to be finished in weeks or months, but rather years.

    ''The strategies in the report have the potential to greatly impact the lives of Americans," Henney said at the news conference. "Lowering salt intake will reduce adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke."

    '"Once Americans reach their 50s, the risk of developing high blood pressure over the remainder of their lives is estimated to be 90%, even for those with healthy blood pressures [before then]."

    The recommendation to phase in the changes gradually was done, she says, to allow consumers to adjust to a lower-salt diet over time and to increase the chances of consumers accepting the changes.

    The report does not speak to an exact time frame, but the authors urge the FDA to view salt reduction as an urgent public health problem.

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