It’s bad enough that Americans eat about twice as much salt as they need — and much more than is healthful — but most don’t even realize it. Reducing sodium in processed foods like cereal and soup and in restaurant meals could save more than 100,000 lives a year, and medical groups are urging the government to take action.

The Institute of Medicine released a report Tuesday showing that voluntary efforts to reduce sodium in the American diet have utterly failed. The organization, which is an independent nonprofit associated with the National Academy of Sciences, wants regulators to set mandatory limits on how much salt can be added to food products.

Sodium is a stealth risk. As the IOM explains:

Challenges arise because salt—the primary source of sodium in the diet—and other sodium-containing compounds often are used to enhance the flavor of foods, and high amounts are found in processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants. Sodium also is added to enhance texture or to serve as a preservative or thickener. In fact, very little of the sodium in foods is naturally occurring; most of it is added as it is being processed or prepared by the food industry. The actual sodium levels in food may surprise consumers, especially if the food does not taste salty.

Excessive salt is linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t seem all that moved by the IOM report’s findings. While the agency’s website says “[t]hese recommendations are being carefully reviewed and evaluated by FDA,” Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told The Associated Press, “We believe we can achieve some substantial voluntary reductions.” She appears to have missed the point. — PZS

Sources: IOM, FDA, AP

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