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What child doesn’t love to eat a bag of popcorn, licking the excess salt off of each finger? Many of the foods we love contain large amounts of sodium. Foods with lower levels of sodium often taste bland. But are we once again sabotaging our health for taste? (Yes!) And should the government help save the public’s health by mandating decreased levels of salt in the foods American’s consume? (Yes!)

According to a new statement from the Food and Drug Administration, Americans are eating way too much salt. The FDA has called for the government to impose stricter regulations on how much salt food products can contain. Unfortunately, the government has no plans to institute these suggestions. Instead, the FDA must rely on voluntary salt reductions from food manufacturers. To date, this approach has not worked very well.

How much salt are we eating? The average American eats 1.5 teaspoons of salt a day, more than double the recommended amount. In fact, this amount of salt increases the risk for high blood pressure, strokes, and other medical problems. Don’t think that you are safe by simply forgoing the salt shaker! Putting salt on foods only adds insult to injury. Large amounts of salt are hidden in most processed foods and restaurant meals.

Current government guidelines call for a maximum daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams. Health problems appear when intake is above this number. These new statements suggest a recommended maximum daily sodium intake of 1,500 mg a day (and less for adults over age 50). It seems we pay no attention to these guidelines as the average consumption of sodium is more than 3,400 mg a day. Apparently, simply knowing that one’s diet is not healthy is not enough to convince the average American to change his habits.

Rather than calling for a drastic reduction in added sodium, researchers are suggesting a gradual change so the country’s taste buds can adapt and the food industry has time to look for tasty, but healthier, alternatives. Their proposed regulations would ease both food producers and consumers into a healthier way of eating by setting maximum sodium levels for different foods in a stepwise rollback set over a period of years. The final goal is to decrease salt consumption by 0.5 teaspoons per day.

Government officials claim that writing new laws to set limits on sodium levels would take much longer than working with food executives on voluntary reductions. Food executives, however, argue that there are no tasty ways to decrease sodium levels. But brand-to-brand differences in the same foods suggest that’s not so.

The Institute of Medicine, in a statement given this Tuesday, reported that the food industry has made very little progress in voluntarily reducing sodium. What a surprise! You mean companies haven’t been willing to spend large amounts of money to produce a product that, while healthier, will not taste quite as good? Shocking. How can a plan based solely on the good nature of food industry executives not succeed?

Salt leads to real health problems. One in three U.S. adults suffers from high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. The American Medical Association predicts that 150,000 lives could be saved each year, simply by cutting the sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods in half

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