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Experts Urge FDA to Mandate Salt Reduction

Institute of Medicine Asks for New Standards for Salt Content of Food Sold in Stores and Restaurants

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.

FDA Response

In a news release, the FDA says it plans to ''more thoroughly review the recommendation of the IOM report and build plans for how the FDA can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply."

''The FDA is not currently working on regulations nor have they made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time," according to the statement, in an attempt to correct some news reports that the FDA regulation effort had begun.

At a news conference, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog organization, called the recommendations ''groundbreaking."

''This is not something Americans can fix by throwing out your salt shaker," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who supports the recommendations.

She predicts the public will embrace regulations reducing salt intake, much as they did the food label information on calories and other nutrition facts.

Industry Comment

Roman offers another criticism, claiming that the research on the benefits of salt reduction has focused too much on the effect of lowering blood pressure and not on the ''big picture'' outcome of salt levels on health and mortality.

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