As one who has struggled with high blood pressure (including fat feet and swollen ankles), I applaud the move. It is possible to control the amount of salt used in our own cooking and eating of raw fruits and vegetables, but not so with processed foods and restaurant meals. The food industry has believed that consumers prefer salty and fatty foods, but that is only because we have all been conditioned in that direction for most of our lives.
I applaud these new recommendations which, if followed, will go a long way to stop the conditioning of our kids at school and in fast food outlets.
Our nations future depends on all of us getting a lot more healthy through what we take into our bodies.
WASHINGTON – You should eat less salt, the government says. A lot less.
The new dietary guidelines, issued every five years by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, are telling people who are 51 and older, African-American or suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease to cut the amount of sodium they eat daily to little more than half a teaspoon.
A number of major food makers have announced plans during the past few years to cut sodium in their products as pressure from health advocates, consumers and regulators has built.
Kraft Foods Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., Heinz Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Bumble Bee Foods Inc. are some of the companies that have committed to lowering sodium levels. But it's often a multiyear process to dial down the sodium, largely so consumers do not detect the changes in taste.
It's unclear if those incremental changes will be able to cut enough to satisfy the new guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration has said it will pressure companies to take voluntary action before it moves to regulate salt consumption.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the heightened interest in the dangers of too much sodium could help somewhat. But she believes the FDA will have to take action for the companies to reduce enough salt to matter.
"The companies are only going to do it if there's a really strong push," she said.
Consumers still have some control. To reduce the risk of disease from high sodium intake, the guidelines say people should:
• Read nutrition labels closely and buy items labeled low in sodium.
• Use little or no salt when cooking or eating.
• Eat more fresh or home-prepared foods and fewer processed foods, so they know exactly what they are eating.
• Ask that salt not be added to foods at restaurants.
• Gradually reduce sodium intake over time to get used to the taste.
Other recommendations in the guidelines are similar to previous years — limit trans fats, reduce calorie intake from solid fats and added sugars, eat fewer refined grains and more whole grains, consume less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol. The guidelines also recommend eating less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats — full-fat cheese and fatty meats, for example.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his department may come out with a new icon, but that won't be for a few more months. For now, the government wants consumers to focus on the guidelines themselves.
He says the recommendations — coupled with efforts from industry and other government campaigns for healthful eating, such as first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative — should bring about some change in the country's diet.
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"I don't think it necessarily has to take a generation or two to see some progress," he said.