Salt In Foods A Sore Point

Pointing to the high salt content in a wide range of processed foods and what it says is the resulting threat to public health, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has sued the Food and Drug Administration to try to force it to limit sodium levels in foods.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay observes that excessive salt in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure, but salt intake can be difficult to control because it is routinely added to processed foods and restaurant dishes.

"If we can reduce sodium by 50 percent, we could save 150,000 lives per year," says the CPSI's Michael Jacobson. "(The FDA) does not have a single person focused on reducing sodium consumption -- not one person."

Current guidelines recommend 1,500 milligrams of salt per day for the average adult.

But preventive medicine specialist Dr. Stephen Havas says most Americans are overdoing it. "Unfortunately, Americans ingest nearly 4,000 milligrams of sodium daily on average, far exceeding the current recommendations."

The CSPI asserts that, despite the availability of lower sodium foods and efforts by some manufacturers to reduce salt content, it's still too difficult for the average consumer to maintain a low-sodium diet. "It's time for the government to get food companies to put less salt in their foods," he says.

The group also wants the FDA to redefine salt's status from "generally recognized as safe" to "food additive," and disclose salt content on restaurant menus, Senay reports.

The FDA declined to comment on a lawsuit in progress, but did concede to CBS News that it's evaluating the CSPI's report and recommendations.

There is already a major push by the Department of Health and Human Services to get people to recognize the dangers of high blood pressure and reduce the salt in their diets accordingly, Senay notes.

She adds that the Institute of Medicine recently revised the recommended daily salt intake and now suggests even lower amounts as people get older and their risk of high blood pressure increases.

So what strategies can people use to lower their salt intake?

"Shop around in the supermarket aisles," Senay advises. "The salt content is listed on processed food labels, and content varies widely, so go as low as you can.

"The only real salt-free zone is the fresh produce section of the supermarket. Fresh fruits and vegetables are virtually sodium-free and have high amounts of potassium, which can also help reduce high blood pressure."