Health Groups Putting the Pinch on Salt

"In terms of self-regulation, the food industry has proven itself incapable of acting in the best interests of public health time and time again," he said. "So yes, I do feel that well-crafted and sensible regulation could go a long way in promoting better public health."

Still, others feel that though the public should be informed about the amount of sodium in foods, the ultimate choice should be left up to the consumer.

"I do not think the FDA should regulate the amount of sodium," said Mary Beth Kavanagh, instructor in the department of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"The FDA should make certain that consumers are aware of the sodium content of processed foods and let consumers decide."

Does Obesity Trump Salt Fears?

Despite the strong sentiments of various medical groups, some diet experts believe salt should be put on the back burner so that attention can be focused on more important public health issues, such as sugar intake and obesity.

"Sodium in food is not as big a problem as the use of sugar and high fructose corn syrup in foods and drinks," said Dr. Jana Klauer, who's in private practice in New York.

"Sugar in its various disguises -- table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined carbohydrates -- is making America fat," she added. "The AMA would be wise to address the ubiquitous use of sugar before crusading against salt."

And even Binks agreed that salt should take a back seat to what he feels are greater dietary evils.

"While I agree that sodium is important, I am not sure it should be the primary target of regulatory efforts," he said.

"Portion sizes and caloric density of foods and foods high in sugars and fats that provide little satiety but plenty of calories contribute immensely to the obesity epidemic, which is responsible for 400,000 deaths per year."

For the most part, however, medical experts resoundingly agree that too much salt is a public health concern.

"It certainly contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine.

"It likely contributes to osteoporosis, and because hidden salt stimulates the appetite center, it contributes to overeating and obesity, too -- which means that indirectly, it contributes to diabetes. It's a very significant problem."

And while most of us may not reach for a salt shaker at every meal, it doesn't mean we aren't at risk for consuming too much sodium.

"Much of the problem is that foods not thought of as salty, such as breakfast cereals, are more concentrated in salt than the overall diet is supposed to be," said Katz. "How can you keep your total dietary salt intake down to recommended levels when even nonsalty foods bring you up above that level?"

How Much Salt Is Too Much?

According to the American Heart Association, adults should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, about a teaspoon of salt. But many consume between two and three times that amount.

And Sandon said that recent research reveals that virtually everyone consumes more than the 1,500 milligrams that the Institute of Medicine describes as adequate.

"Adults also exceed the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans of an upper-intake level of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day," she added. "Most of this sodium is found in processed and preprepared foods, so people are often unaware of how much they are getting."

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