By Sally Squires
The Washington Post; Mar 8, 2005; pg.
While weight-conscious consumers often
obsess about fat and carbohydrates, a
lawsuit newly filed by the Center for
Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
puts another popular ingredient in the
CSPI is suing the Food and Drug Administration
to put more muscle into salt regulation.
The lawsuit would change the status of
salt from generally recognized as safe
(GRAS) to an official food ingredient
that would subject it to much stiffer
regulation by the FDA. In issuing a report
last week on the health dangers of salt,
the consumer advocacy group noted that
salt consumption has slowly risen over
the past 30 years and, by its estimate,
accounts for nearly 150,000 premature
deaths annually in the United States.
Most of those deaths are linked to complications
of high blood pressure, or hypertension.
"Americans spend more than $15 billion
each year on drugs to treat hypertension,
yet the government spends almost nothing
to reduce salt consumption," said
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson,
author of the report.
The latest national nutritional surveys
suggest that Americans consume about a
third more than the 2,300 milligrams per
day limit advised by the federal government's
2005 Dietary Guidelines for adults up
to age 45. (Those older than 45, as well
as African Americans and people who have
already been diagnosed with elevated blood
pressure, are advised to consume no more
than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily.
That's the amount found in about a cup
and a half of many canned soups.)
And, no, removing the salt shaker from
the dining table likely won't be enough.
An expert committee that helped develop
the revised guidelines reported in August
that as much as 80 percent of sodium intake
comes from processed and restaurant foods.
Even so, the food industry points to major
improvements and the growing number of
reduced-sodium and no-salt-added products.
"Over the past 40 years, there has
been a dramatic reduction in the use of
sodium in processed foods," said
Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition
policy at the National Food Processors
Association, an industry group. "Various
new techniques in canning and freezing
have reduced the amount of sodium needed"
to extend shelf life of foods.
But those reduced-sodium products must
appeal to consumers, which "is not
a simple task," as Earl notes.
"There's a tradeoff here," concedes
James O. Hill, director of the Clinical
Nutrition Research Unit at the University
of Colorado Health Sciences Center in
Denver, noting that salt is important
for taste. "I know where CSPI is
coming from. . . . But salt is used for
a reason, and it plays a role in allowing
consumers to like products. So I'm a big
fan of getting the food industry to gradually
reduce sodium over time so that the consumer
doesn't notice it."
In the meantime, here's what you can do
to reduce your sodium intake:
Don't bother doing the milligram math.
The answers are already in plain sight
on nutrition food labels. Pay attention
to percent daily value of sodium. "The
rule of thumb is to choose foods that
have less than 5 percent of the daily
value for sodium" per serving, said
Eva Obarzanek, a research nutritionist
at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute (NHLBI) .
Eat more fruit and vegetables. Studies
suggest that these potassium-rich foods
can help counter the effects of high sodium
DASH. No, not the 40-yard kind, but
the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,
an eating plan that has been proven to
lower blood pressure as much as some medications.
DASH is low in total fat, saturated fat
and cholesterol, and rich in fruit, vegetables
and low-fat dairy products. Get a free
copy at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/
or from the NHLBI Health Information Center,
P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105,
or by calling 301-592-8573.
Cut back on sodium gradually. Since
the taste for salt develops over time,
"it's not a good idea to go cold
turkey," said Alice Lichtenstein,
professor of nutrition at Tufts University
and chairwoman of the American Heart Association's
Nutrition Committee. "Introduce a
few lower-sodium products, substitute
herbs for salt and just begin ratcheting
down. That's what really works."
Choose reduced-sodium or no-salt-added
foods. Harvard University's Meir Stampfer,
a professor of nutrition and epidemiology,
snacks on unsalted peanuts and skips sodium-loaded
pretzels and chips. Lichtenstein uses
low-sodium chicken broth to whip up homemade
soups in minutes for her family. Or just
swap "natural" peanut butter
with no added salt for more-processed
brands, which have 6 percent of the daily
value per two tablespoons.
Beware of hidden sodium. Besides restaurant
fare and canned food, leading sources
of sodium include many of the items that
the new guidelines suggest should be consumed
in greater quantities: whole-grain bread,
crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, and
dairy foods, especially cheese.
Other high sodium sources: frozen food
with sauces; macaroni and cheese with
flavor or seasoning packets; salad dressings;
condiments, snack foods, luncheon meats,
hot dogs and processed tomato products,
from juice and ketchup to salsa and sauce.
Smart low-sodium choices include: oatmeal,
plain shredded wheat, whole-wheat matzoh,
brown rice as well as nonfat milk and
yogurt. Use vinegar and oil instead of
prepared salad dressings. Rinse canned
beans and other vegetables to reduce sodium.
Choose herbs and spices for flavoring
instead of . . . well, you know.?
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