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Pressure Mounts in US to Restrict Salt Levels in Processed Foods

Salt is believed to be the single most harmful thing in our food, contributing to high blood pressure

For years doctors have been telling patients with high blood pressure to cut down on the amount of salt in their diet. Now a prestigious panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine in Washington wants the U.S. government to put limits on how much salt, or sodium, food manufacturers can use.

It is hard to believe that many of us eat this much salt during one meal or even in one day. Doctors and nutritionists advise us not to eat more than a teaspoon of salt daily. That is about 2300 milligrams of sodium.

Salt makes food tastier. But too much of it can have risky consequences, says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Salt is probably the single most harmful thing in our food, contributing to high blood pressure," Jacobson explained. "Which causes heart attacks and strokes."

The World Health Organization reports an estimated 17 million people die of heart disease and stroke every year.

One major risk factor is a diet filled with fat and salt.

Morton Satin of the Salt Institute says salt, or sodium, is not really the culprit. "The problem is not salt," he said. "The problem that we're dealing with is that we don't have a balanced diet."

When the Food and Drug Administration does issue new limits on salt, the changes on the menu and on grocery food labels will take time to implement.

"Reducing salt in the food supply needs to be a gradual process for a couple of reasons," Dr. Margaret Hamburg said. Hamburg is the commissioner of the FDA. One, we need consumer tastes to adapt to a reduced level. Also, for industry, salt in the composition of food products, is something that cannot be changed overnight. They need to rework their recipes."

Some food manufacturers have already begun the process of cutting back on sodium content.

Meanwhile, the best advice may come from doctors who are advising patients to cut back on salt voluntarily.