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“The companies are only going to do it if there’s a really strong push,” she said.

New York City has already pushed a little, launching a campaign with the goal of cutting salt consumption by at least 20 percent in five years. That’s modeled on a plan carried out in Britain which set voluntary salt reduction targets for 85 categories of processed foods.

Consumers still have some control. To reduce the risk of disease from high sodium intake, the guidelines say people should:

_Read nutrition labels closely and buy items labeled low in sodium.

_Use little or no salt when cooking or eating.

_Consume more fresh or home-prepared foods and fewer processed foods, so they know exactly what they are eating.

_Ask that salt not be added to foods at restaurants.

_Gradually reduce sodium intake over time to get used to the taste.

Other recommendations in the guidelines are similar to previous years _ limit trans fats, reduce calorie intake from solid fats and added sugars, eat fewer refined grains and more whole grains, consume less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol. The guidelines also recommend eating less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats _ full-fat cheese and fatty meats, for example.

The government promotes these guidelines to consumers by using a symbolic pyramid. Introduced more than five years ago, it doesn’t specify recommended amounts of foods but directs people to a USDA website that details the guidelines. That replaced an old pyramid that specified what to eat after surveys showed that few people followed it.

Vilsack said USDA may come out with a new icon, but that won’t be for a few more months. For now, the government wants consumers to focus on the guidelines themselves.

He says the recommendations _ coupled with efforts from industry and other government campaigns for healthy eating, such as first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative _ should bring about some change in the country’s diet.

“I don’t think it necessarily has to take a generation or two to see some progress,” he said.

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Sarah Skidmore in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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