Voluntary cut in salt good start

The FDA’s attempt to rein in sodium consumption by saying voluntary guidelines will be coming for the food industry is a welcome one.

Too much salt in the diet has long been a complaint of nutritionists and physicians in the United States. High blood pressure and strokes are the main result, and it is estimated by the FDA that Americans eat an average of a teaspoon and a half of salt a day, hidden among many sources including processed and prepared foods, as well as snacks.

The issue isn’t about dialing down salt to the point where pretzels and potato chips are unpalatable bits of crunchy and flavorless foodstuffs. It’s about being reasonable.

While fast-food restaurants often get the brunt of criticism, the stuff on store shelves is a lurking storehouse of excess salt.

When Americans should be consuming about 1,500 milligrams of salt a day, according to the American Heart Association – less for older citizens and those who already have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease – it should be worrisome to find on the market microwaveable lunch meals with more than half the daily total in them. Or a name-brand soup with 660 mg of salt in a half-cup serving (and who really eats only a half cup?)

The food industry is being portrayed in some corners as being dragged, kicking and screaming, to make changes, but that’s not entirely the case. Many companies, including food giant ConAgra, already have made reductions (20 percent at ConAgra) or pledged to do so (a 25-percent reduction promised by next year by Wal-Mart).

The FDA is hoping that by keeping the regulation as voluntary, time will be taken to implement changes – a reduction here, a reduction there – so over time, Americans will have their salt intake reduced without even noticing a change has taken place.

Salt substitutes are available, too, and in some cases, salt is used as a preservative and won’t be able to be reduced while keeping certain foods safe.

But every effort that cuts back on a long-known health pattern that is damaging to people is worth the effort.

And, despite excuses that will surely be made, we cannot imagine a case where adding less of something should lead to higher costs for consumers.