UNDER ASSAULT

Long described as "a silent killer" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sodium has drawn renewed attacks from the American Medical Association. Critics say it may be responsible for 150,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.OK, so it's salt. It may sound mundane, but physicians overwhelmingly agree that, over the long term, a high-sodium diet will contribute to the development

Long described as "a silent killer" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sodium has drawn renewed attacks from the American Medical Association. Critics say it may be responsible for 150,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.

OK, so it's salt. It may sound mundane, but physicians overwhelmingly agree that, over the long term, a high-sodium diet will contribute to the development of hypertension, raising a person's risk of heart attacks and strokes. And Americans are now consuming an average of 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day, up from 2,300 in the early 1970s. That's more than twice the limit that doctors recommend for their middle-aged patients.

"We have known for years that too much salt is not good for health, and that most salt in the diet comes from processed foods and restaurant foods," said Marion Nestle, a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University.

Several companies - notably Campbell's Soup and Betty Crocker's Progresso division - have taken significant steps this year, reformulating products with less salt, and launching new low-sodium alternatives to many of their most popular brands.

Fortunately, while AMA is asking for sodium content to be slashed, they're also suggesting that these changes be implemented gradually, across the board and over the course of a decade.