'Healthier foods' champ wants sodium lowered

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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NEW YORK — Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is fighting a new campaign to lower the amount of sodium Americans consume, according to The New York Times. He is targeting packaged foods and mass-produced restaurant meals, which contribute 80% of the sodium in the average American diet.

Guidelines currently suggest people ingest no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Under his plan, sodium reduction will be set for certain food categories, including cheese, breakfast cereals, bread, macaroni and noodle products, cake mixes, condiments and soups. The final list of sodium targets will be based on a formula that takes into account the amount of sodium in a product, as well as how much food in that category people eat. Sodium shaken onto food at restaurant tables or in the kitchen only amounts to about 11% of the salt people eat, Dr. Frieden said.

This new campaign officially began last October when Dr. Frieden invited major food processing company executives to lunch. After lunch, he proposed their companies identify foods that are contributing the most sodium to people’s diets and cut the level of salt by 25%. And within a decade, reduce sodium by another 25% in unison with their competitors’ products. He is taking this timetable very seriously.

"If there’s not progress in a few years, we’ll have to consider other options, like legislation," he warned in a recent interview.

Dr. Frieden is no newcomer to battling food giants. He was instrumental in national moves to ban trans fats and to listing calorie totals on restaurant menus.

Many heart researchers agree that high blood pressure is a leading factor in heart attacks and strokes. And salt causes high blood pressure in some people. By lowering sodium levels by 50%, 150,000 American lives a year might be saved, he reasoned.

Dr. Frieden is referring to the plan as a "national salt-reduction initiative." As a next step, he and a team from the Health Department plan to meet with the leaders of chain restaurants in February.

However, removing salt from food, while maintaining acceptable taste for consumers, isn’t easy or inexpensive. Just ask Kraft, which has already spent $20 million on sodium-reduction research.

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