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Pro: Government should regulate salt in food

By APRILL BRANDON
May 2, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.


The issue

As the nation's health problems grow, lawmakers are turning to salt as one of the culprits. Some members of Congress are urging the Food and Drug Administration to limit the amount of salt in processed foods, calling the matter a "public health crisis." Packaged foods and restaurant meals also face possible federal limits on sodium.

With a recent Institute of Medicine report stating most Americans are consuming dangerous levels of sodium, many are calling for the government to step in and crack down on food manufacturers.

The report, released last week, recommended the Food and Drug Administration launch efforts to limit salt levels and has prompted at least two members of Congress to urge the FDA to do so quickly.

"I understand they want to do it in a phased kind of deal, but I don't want it to be too long," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in a Washington Post article. "This is crying out for change that's long overdue."

Currently, the FDA recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day, which is the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt. However, the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of salt a day, said Kathryn Steve, a licensed and registered dietician with DeTar Healthcare Systems.

"An increase in high sodium food can cause strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure," she added. "The Institute of Medicine estimates that a reduction of salt in the diet could prevent 100,000 deaths annually."

The National Salt Reduction Initiative, which is being led by the New York City Health Department, has a goal of making restaurants and food manufacturers voluntarily reduce salt in 62 categories of packaged foods and 25 categories of foods sold in restaurants by 25 percent in five years.

While many companies, such as General Mills Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc., have pledged to reduce sodium content in their products as a part of the initiative, the same Institute of Medicine report found that voluntary efforts so far by food manufacturers have had limited success.

"If the manufacturers won't step up to the plate and do the right thing, the government will have to do it," Patrick T. Barnes of Victoria said. "There is no excuse for the levels of sodium in manufactured food. Have you looked at canned tomatoes? Canned and jarred pasta sauces are obscene also."

Many people simply aren't aware of how much salt they are eating, which is adding to the problem, Steve said.

"It's a shock to a lot of people when they found out how much salt is in what they're eating. There are a lot of foods that we don't think have salt in them because they don't taste salty to us," she added. "But most processed foods have salt in them."

For instance, a typical meal from McDonald's, consisting of a Big Mac, fries, Diet Coke and apple pie, has almost 70 percent of the recommended 2,300 mgs of salt a person should eat daily.

In a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that the average restaurant lunch contained 1,750 mg of sodium, and 20 percent of the meals topped the daily recommended 2,300 mg.

The saltiest meals came from chicken chain restaurants, such as KFC and Popeye's Chicken.

Related: Con: Don't create nanny state by regulating foods

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