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FDA should force rollback in salty foods

April 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
One study shows Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons of salt a day. That's more than double what we need, and the excess has significantly raised the risk of heart disease in this country. The FDA responded to concerns Tuesday from the Institute of Medicine that food manufacturers need to set limits on the salt content in processed foods.Pouring it on with a salt shaker is not the way most Americans rack up their sodium intake.

"There's a significant amount of salt in a lot of the processed foods we are seeing," said Dr. John Liu, Good Samaritan Hospital.

Dr. Liu says many of his patients have no idea how much salt they are eating.

"Frozen food, for example, there's a huge amount of salt in that. Also canned foods add quite a bit of salt as a preservative for those foods," said Dr. Liu.

"Ketchup has salt. It has added sugar," said Dr. Liu. "There are a lot of condiments that have salt added in. A lot of salad dressings have salt as well."

Experts say Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons or 3,500 milligrams of sodium instead of the 1,500 milligrams the American Heart Association recommends.

Verla Nealy, 69, has high blood pressure so she tries to watch out for it. She says it's everywhere.

"Anything you see on the label it says sodium, sodium, sodium. Even when you try not to you still get it," said Nealy.

Researchers say if Americans did cut back on their salt intake, it could prevent a 100,000 heart attacks every year.

"Decreasing the amount of salt will in effect decrease hopefully the incidence of hypertension," said Dr. Liu.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine concludes national action or government regulation is necessary to reduce the sodium content of foods. At this time the FDA says it has no plans to act on this, but many experts think it's a good idea.

"It is something that I think is necessary," said Dr. Liu. "I personally have a lot of patients who have blood pressures that are very difficult to control."

Patients like Nealy would like to see less sodium in processed foods, but even she admits staying away from salt will still require a lot of will power.

"Nothing tastes good without it," said Nealy.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that cutting down salt consumption could save this country $10 to $24 billion a year in health care costs alone.


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