I.O.M. recommends strategies for sodium reduction

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Institute of Medicine (I.O.M.) on Tuesday issued recommended strategies to reduce sodium intake, including the recommendation that the Food and Drug Administration set mandatory national standards for the sodium content in foods. The I.O.M. did not call for the outright elimination of adding salt to foods in its report, “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States,” but did recommend that companies and restaurants begin the process of reducing excess sodium in processed foods and menu items to safer levels.

“It is important that the reduction in sodium content of foods be carried out gradually, with small reductions instituted regularly as part of a carefully monitored process,” the I.O.M. said. “Evidence shows that a decrease in sodium can be accomplished successfully without affecting consumer enjoyment of food products if it is done in a stepwise process that systematically and gradually lowers sodium levels across the food supply.”

The I.O.M. also recommended that the F.D.A. modify the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status of compounds such as sodium that are added to processed foods. By changing the level to which the use of such compounds is considered safe, the expectation would be that sodium content in the food supply would gradually slow in a way that should avoid making food unpalatable to consumers. Currently, companies may use as much salt as they like because of its GRAS status.

A story in the April 20 issue of The Washington Post cited sources with the F.D.A. who claim the agency, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is set to implement a 10-year program that would phase-down salt. The initiative would launch later this year and would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products, The Washington Post said.

A statement issued by the F.D.A. about the I.O.M. report and The Washington Post story said, “A story in today’s Washington Post leaves a mistaken impression that the F.D.A. has begun the process of regulating the amount of sodium in foods. The F.D.A. is not currently working on regulations nor have they made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time.

“Over the coming weeks, the F.D.A. will more thoroughly review the recommendations of the I.O.M. report and build plans for how the F.D.A. can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply. The Department of Health and Human Services will be establishing an interagency working group on sodium at the Department that will review options and next steps.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement that it shares the I.O.M.’s goal of helping consumers reduce their sodium intake.

“For years, food companies have been introducing a wide variety of new products into the marketplace, including reduced sodium, containing no sodium or low sodium, or with no added salt,” the G.M.A. said. “During that time, food companies have been very successful at making incremental reductions in sodium levels in food products that maintain consumer taste preferences.”

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