The Obama administration is pressuring the food industry to make foods ranging from breads to sliced turkey less salty, proposing long-awaited sodium guidelines in an effort to prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke. The guidelines released Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration are voluntary, so food companies won't be required to comply, and it could be a year or more before they are final, the AP reports. But the idea is to persuade companies and restaurants—many of which have already lowered sodium levels in their products—to take a more consistent approach. It's the first time the government has recommended such limits. Sodium content already is included on existing food labels, but the government has not set specific sodium recommendations.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf says many people may not be conscious of how much sodium they are eating until they get sick. "Our great hope is that this will initiate a very serious national dialogue," he says. Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons of salt daily, or 3,400 milligrams. That amount hasn't gone down over the years, and it's about a third more than the government recommends for good health. If companies do eventually comply with the guidelines, Americans won't notice an immediate taste difference in higher-sodium foods like pizza, pasta, bread, and soups. The idea is to encourage gradual change so consumers' taste buds can adjust, and to give the companies time to develop lower-sodium foods. (New York is the first US city to require salt warnings on menus.)