Salt levels in school meals source of contention

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 29- Among the contentious points in USDA's proposed “Nutritional Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs” is sodium, which is a major component in salt. The school meal standards adopted the salt restrictions in the 2010 dietary guidelines, which the Salt Institute claims are unreliable and unscientific, and are resulting in a misguided school nutrition proposal.

 

“The flawed sodium provisions in the Dietary Guidelines cause significant harm to the public and the salt producers that we represent, by distributing scientifically unsupportable information disparaging sodium, a mineral essential to human health,” according to a letter signed by Salt Institute president, Lori Roman. 

 

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The letter, sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, requests the withdrawal of the provisions in the guidelines.

 

The letter argues that ‘Dietary Recommended Intakes', published in 2004 by the Institute of Medicine, served as the basis of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, despite an IOM qualification stating that “[b]ecause of insufficient data from dose-response trials, an Estimated Average Requirement could not be established and thus a Recommended Dietary Allowance (for sodium) could not be derived.”

 

The standards recommend the daily maximum for salt (table salt is 40 percent sodium, 60 percent chloride) be reduced to 1,500 mg from the current 2,300 mg and requires schools to cut sodium in lunches by more than 50 percent within 10 years.

 

These levels are adopted from the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010,” issued in January, 2011. Cutting sodium is one way outlined in the Dietary Guidelines to reduce the number of Americans with high blood pressure.

 

“Research suggests that modest population-wide reductions in dietary salt could substantially reduce cardiovascular events and medical costs,” state the Dietary Guidelines.

 

The document also suggests that lowering the sodium intake of adolescents could result in health benefits by decreasing the number of teenagers with hypertension and the rates of cardiovascular disease as those teenagers reach adulthood. The document offers a chart of the suggested sodium levels for schools.

 

However, the 2012 appropriations bill passed in Congress last week would not implement the sodium reduction beyond Target I levels. The proposed rule has three target levels: Target I includes school sodium levels after two years, Target 2 includes sodium levels after four years and the Final Target includes levels after ten years.

 

The appropriations measure stipulates that the department's proposed nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs will not be implemented for sodium levels beyond Target I unless the Secretary of Agriculture certifies that USDA “has reviewed and evaluated relevant scientific studies and data relevant to the relationship of sodium reductions to human health.”

 

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) agrees with the need to reduce sodium levels in foods and that meeting Target 1 and Target 2 is achievable. However, the organization believes achieving goals beyond that point will be a challenge and should be reassessed before imposing further reductions in sodium levels. SNA recommended that USDA make an allowance for naturally occurring sodium found in foods like milk and meat.

 

“SNA believes that allowance should be made for naturally occurring sodium, including revising sodium targets to compensate for naturally occurring sodium,” according to association comments the proposed rule. “SNA members are concerned that insufficient allowance has been made for naturally occurring sodium. For example, factoring in the naturally occurring sodium found in milk, which is mandated by the program, makes meeting the revised sodium standards more difficult.”

 

Meanwhile, the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services on Sept. 15 extended a comment period to Jan. 27, 2012, seeking input on approaches to reducing sodium consumption. In that notice, the FDA and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requested comments on research and data “that will better inform both agencies about current and emerging practices by the private sector regarding sodium reduction in foods.” The agencies say they are also seeking to understand “current consumer understanding of the role of sodium in hypertension and other chronic illnesses; sodium consumption practices; motivation and barriers in reducing sodium in consumers' food intakes; and issues associated with the development of targets for sodium reduction in foods to promote reduction in excess sodium intake.”

 

For more information on the FDA/FSIS sodium notice, click HERE.

 

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