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Is salt bad or not?

Industry officials say no, lobby to boot 'healthy' label from low-salt food

September 19, 1996
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
eating salt

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is salt bad for you or isn't it? Americans have heard over and over again that they should cut back on salt to keep from developing high blood pressure, and a new study is coming out next month that says it again.

The American Heart Association will announce in October that a new review of studies of salt supports the government's advice, which is to eat less salt.

But the salt industry says that with the exception of a minority of patients with high blood pressure, there is no clear proof that eating less salt helps lower blood pressure in the general population. It is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop letting companies claim their lower-salt foods are healthier.

"Our purpose in doing this is to remove what has been an unfair discouragement for the general public to reduce dietary sodium in hopes that it would reduce their hypertension or their risk of hypertension," said Richard Hanneman of the Salt Institute.

The salt industry's position is supported by numerous scientists, including the founding president of the American Society of Hypertension. "The present literature does not prove that a low-salt diet does much of anything for normal people, and may do some harm," said Dr. John Laragh, who is also a physician at The New York Hospital.

blood pressure

The AHA says that in the past, it recommended that Americans eat no more than 4000 milligrams of salt per day. Now, it will advise they consume no more than 3000 milligrams per day -- that's about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, or three teaspoons of baking soda.

"The evidence continues to support the association between salt intake and blood pressure. That is, the higher the salt intake, the higher the blood pressure," said Nancy Ernst of the National Institutes of Health.

As for the salt industry's petition to do away with labels claiming lower salt foods are healthier, the FDA says it will review the petition thoroughly, and act on it within six months.

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