While some companies maintain that the current levels of sodium they use are necessary for purposes of taste or preservation, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that there were large brand-to-brand differences in numerous categories of foods.
This indicated that some companies “could easily lower sodium levels and still have perfectly marketable products”, claimed the CSPI.
A body of evidence has linked excess salt (sodium chloride) in the diet to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed foods.
Food manufacturers have been trying to lower salt content, driven by consumer demand and health concerns, and there is a host of products on the market which can be used as alternatives.
However, the CSPI survey showed that the average sodium content of 528 packaged and restaurant foods stayed essentially the same between 2005 and 2008, increasing by less than one percent.
Some 109 products increased by five percent or more and 29 products increased by 30 percent or more.
Meanwhile sodium in 114 products declined by five percent or more and 18 products declined by 30 percent or more. The rest remained about the same.
It described the lack of progress in lowering salt levels as “disturbing” considering industry acknowledgment that sodium levels are too high.
In 2005, CSPI petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to change the GRAS (generally recognized as safe)status of salt. FDA held a hearing in September 2007 but no action has yet been taken.
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said: “The next Administration can't sit by incuriously as chain restaurants and food manufacturers recklessly turn Americans' brains and hearts into ticking time bombs."
On the other side of the debate, the Salt Institute has encouraged a controlled investigation into whether a reduction in salt would really improve public health.