An Assault On Salt?

On Thursday for the first time ever the Food and Drug administration will hold a public meeting to discuss whether to place limits on the amount of sodium in processed foods, which, as CBS News consumer safety correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, contain a lot more sodium than you might think.

It's not a shake of salt here and there that doctors are worried about. It's the staggering levels of sodium in the processed food everyone eats.

"See how much?" one woman said. "It's 980. That's too much sodium."

A full day's worth of sodium is in one Swanson's Hungry Man turkey dinner.

Nearly a day's worth in one can of soup.

Even a Kid Cuisine macaroni and cheese contains nearly half a day's worth of salt.

"Salt trumps fat," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Public health advocates at the CSPI have been petitioning, and suing, the FDA since 1978 to impose sodium limits on processed foods.

"The ones making the higher sodium products can easily lower the amount of salt or other sodium ingredients, get down to those lower levels, perfectly marketable," Jacobson said.

American companies have already been pushed to reduce salt content overseas. One box of Special K contains 60 percent more sodium than the same box in Britain.

McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contain twice as much sodium in the United States as they do in the U.K.

It's estimated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that cutting sodium levels of processed and restaurant foods in half would save 130,000 lives in the United States per year by preventing high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

"If you're eating at home most of the time and preparing your own food, you can control that," said Dr. Patricia Davidson, a cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center. "If you're eating out or buying food in a package, you're unable to control that."

Back in the 1980s, the FDA urged the food industry to voluntarily cut back on salt.

But Americans are consuming even more sodium now than they did then.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.