The food industry has pointed to a separate 2013 IOM report that said there is no good evidence that eating sodium at very low levels — below the 2,300 milligrams a day that the government recommends — offers benefits. The government recommends that those older than 50, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease eat 1,500 milligrams a day. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.
Those pushing for sodium limits say it’s pointless to debate how low the recommendations should go — Americans are still eating around 3,400 milligrams a day.
Many food companies and retailers already have pushed to reduce salt. Wal-Mart pledged to reduce sodium in many items by 25 percent by next year, and food giant ConAgra Foods says it made a 20 percent reduction. Subway restaurants said it has made a 30 percent reduction restaurant-wide.
The companies say that in some cases, just removing added salt or switching ingredients does the trick. Potassium chloride can also substitute for common salt (sodium chloride), though too much can cause a metallic taste.
Levels can vary widely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sodium in a slice of white bread ranges from 80 milligrams to 230 milligrams. Three ounces of turkey deli meat can have 450 milligrams to 1,050 milligrams.
Those ranges give health advocates hope.
“Those differences say to me that the companies that make the highest-sodium products could certainly reduce levels to the same as the companies that make the lower-sodium products,” Jacobson says.
Still, the guidelines could be a hard sell. In recent years, congressional Republicans have fought the Obama administration over efforts to require calorie labels on menus and make school lunches healthier. When the administration attempted to create voluntary guidelines for advertising junk food for children, the industry balked and Republicans in Congress fought the idea, prompting the administration to put them aside.
Other members of Congress are pushing the agency to act.
“As the clock ticks, America’s blood pressure, along with health costs due to chronic disease, continues to rise,” says Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the FDA.
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