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16 food companies pledge to cut salt Posted: May 27th, 2010

By Lisa Tortorello

Lisa Tortorello has been a Director of Public Relations and Marketing within a large East Coast health care system for more than 10 years. She has an associate's degree in Liberal Arts and a bachelor's degree in Public Communication.

Let's face it, Americans consume a lot of salt -- almost twice the recommended intake of 1,500 mg daily for most adults. All the sodium in pepper's pal can cause high blood pressure. Of course, high blood pressure contributes to heart attacks and strokes, which are the nation's leading causes of preventable death. The consequences: more than 800,000 deaths annually and billions of dollars in unnecessary health care expenses. But change may be on the horizon, thanks to the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI).

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and city health care leaders launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) nearly two years ago, which is a voluntary public-private partnership to reduce America's salt consumption 20 percent by 2014.

Only a small percentage of your sodium intake comes from the shaker on your dining room table. Nearly 80 percent of what you consume was added to your food before you bought it. Breads, muffins and breakfast cereals are notorious for high salt content. The NSRI aims to reduce America's salt intake by monitoring sodium levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food.

Sixteen of the nation's leading food companies are on board for the change, including:

  • Au Bon Pain
  • Boar's Head
  • FreshDirect
  • Goya
  • Hain Celestial
  • Heinz
  • Kraft
  • LiDestri
  • Mars Food
  • McCain Foods
  • Red Gold
  • Starbucks
  • Subway
  • Unilever
  • Uno Chicago Grill
  • White Rose

Each company aims to lower sodium in products such as:

  • Frozen breakfast foods
  • Condiments
  • Canned vegetables
  • Breads
  • Frozen entrees
  • Processed meats and cheeses
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Restaurant menu options when offered

Eighteen national health organizations and 29 cities, states, and related entities are also embracing the initiative.

Once involved, a company pledges "its overall sales in a given category will meet the relevant target for salt content, even if some individual products do not." Therefore, if a company manufactures three popular types of cookies, it can keep the salt content in one type the same as long as total cookie sales meet the target. This gives consumers more options and the chance to reap the health benefits without a dramatic difference in taste.

The Institute of Medicine is optimistic about the strides made by these commitments, but it recommends the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flex its regulatory muscles and implement mandatory industry standards. Mayor Bloomberg prefers the initiative remain voluntary.

"By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible; setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The National Salt Reduction Initiative has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives that otherwise would be lost to cardiovascular disease in coming years."

The NSRI may provide more to consumers than healthier choices at the check-out counter or their favorite fast food restaurant. By contributing to healthier blood pressure levels, the initiative may lower the cost of health insurance for countless people. Health insurance premiums are based largely on an estimation of your risk for incurring health expenses. High blood pressure increases your risk and can make finding cheap medical insurance difficult. A low sodium diet may not only make you healthier, but can be good for your health insurance bill, too.