Report urges FDA rollback of salt

By Lauran Neergaard
Associated Press / April 21, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration says it will consider a new call to force food makers to gradually cut the salt hidden inside their products — but don’t expect less salty soups, pizzas, or pastas any time soon.

Americans eat about 1.5 teaspoons of salt daily, more than double what they need for good health and high enough to increase risk of high blood pressure, strokes, and other problems. Most of that sodium doesn’t come from the table salt-shaker — it’s hidden inside common processed foods and restaurant meals.

Major foods makers have started reducing sodium in recent years, but have argued that they don’t have tasty ways to replace sodium for deep cuts — and they fear consumer backlash as the taste changes.

Yesterday, the prestigious Institute of Medicine said the food industry hasn’t done enough to cut back voluntarily. Echoing earlier calls from the American Medical Association and other health groups, the institute urged the government to set maximum sodium levels for different foods in a stepped rollback — so that eventually, the average consumption would drop by about half a teaspoon. A gradual reduction would let people adjust to the change in flavor.

“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 institute’s study. “We think it’s important and imperative to get started, but we think this will probably take years to accomplish.’’