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IOM urges FDA to set standards for salt in food

According to dietary recommendations, the daily intake requirement for normal body functions of an average American is 1500mg of salt, but he gets twice this amount, which amounts to more than 3400 mgs a day, equivalent to 1.5 teaspoons.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) urges the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to step in and provide guidelines on the quantity of salt permitted in America’s food to prevent people from consuming excess sodium.

With the goal to reduce the potential risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, the report urges the FDA to crack down on the amount of salt allowed in processed foods, including restaurant meals.

According to dietary recommendations, the daily intake requirement for normal body functions of an average American is 1500mg of salt, but he gets twice this amount, which amounts to more than 3400 mgs a day, equivalent to 1.5 teaspoons.

The report states, "Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sodium in their food, far exceeding public health recommendations.

"Consuming too much sodium increases the risk for high blood pressure, a serious health condition that is avoidable and can lead to a variety of diseases.

"Analysts estimate that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually. While numerous stakeholders have initiated voluntary efforts to reduce sodium consumption in the United States during the past 40 years, they have not succeeded."

The goal of the FDA is not to ban salt, but to bring down the amount of sodium in the average American's diet so that it is not a health hazard. This can be accomplished by curbing the salt levels slowly in foods, beverages and meals to help the people adjust their palates accordingly.

FDA to pursue salt restriction
After reviewing the recommendations of the IOM report, the FDA is planning to launch a new salt-limit initiative later this year to help Americans kick their high-salt habit.

The effort would be perhaps the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in processed foods.

The aim is not to ban salt, but to bring down the amount of sodium in the average American's diet so that it is not a health hazard.

This can be accomplished by curbing the salt levels slowly in foods, beverages and meals to help the people adjust their palates accordingly.

The whole process to reduce salt will take nearly 10 years. This will also give manufacturers as well as consumers enough time to develop new taste.

The regulation is bound to affect food products such as canned soup, canned vegetables and cheese. Though, many food processing companies have reduced their sodium levels in recent past, the health regulators believe it is still not low enough for health purposes.

"We don't believe this is a fast project by any means," said Dr. Jane E. Henney of the University of Cincinnati, a former FDA commissioner, who headed the IOM's study. "We think it's important and imperative to get started, but we think this will probably take years to accomplish."

Regulatory action a necessity
Regulatory action is extremely important, since awareness campaigns about the dangers of excess salt and some voluntary measures at sodium-cutting adopted by the food industry have not been in cutting the intake of salt in the diet of Americans.

The inherent fear of companies losing customers to competing products or brands with higher salt content is the prime reason why the efforts have fallen short of success.

Dr. Jane E. Henney stated, "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.

"This report outlines strategies that will enable all of us to effectively lower our sodium consumption to healthy levels. The best way to accomplish this is to provide companies the level playing field they need so they are able to work across the board to reduce salt in the food supply.

"Lowering sodium by the food industry in a stepwise, monitored fashion will minimize changes in flavor and still provide adequate amounts of this essential nutrient that are compatible with good health."