Elissa  Elan writes at Nation’s Restaurant News that four restaurants chains, including Subway and Starbucks, were among 16 companies that pledged Monday to voluntarily cut down on the amount of sodium in their products as part of a national initiative aimed at reducing salt consumption by 25 percent over the next five years.

The companies, which also include Au Bon Pain and Uno Chicago Grill, are the first to make the voluntary pledge through the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a public-private partnership that New York City launched earlier this year. Eighteen health organizations and 29 cities, states and municipalities are now participating in the program.

“By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible: setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “The National Salt Reduction Initiative has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives that otherwise would be lost to cardiovascular disease in coming years.”

Monday’s announcement comes as the sodium debate heats up on a national scale. Last week, the Institute of Medicine issued a report recommending federal regulation of sodium content in prepared and restaurants foods. The National Restaurant Association, however, maintains that sodium reduction should be done on a voluntary basis. (EARLIER: Talk of sodium regulation boils over)

Other companies that pledged Monday to reduce sodium in their products include Boar’s Head, FreshDirect, Goya, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft, LiDestri, Mars Food, McCain Foods, Red Gold, Unilever, and White Rose.

The companies each made pledges for specific categories. Starbucks, for example, is targeting the sodium content in its sandwiches and cookies, and Uno is working to cut sodium in a variety of menu items, such as pizza, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. Click here to see a PDF of all the companies’ goals.

Subway, which is looking to reduce sodium in its sandwiches, said it was pleased to join the initiative.

“Reducing sodium in our food is a commitment we have made for our restaurants globally,” said Lanette Kovachi, the chain’s corporate dietitian. “We are proud to partner with the National Salt Reduction Initiative. It will provide an important barometer to help us measure the progress we are making.”

The NSRI currently monitors sodium levels in 62 categories of packaged goods and 25 categories of restaurant foods. The companies participating in the program will reduce sodium in 49 of the packaged food and 15 of the restaurant categories.

“Reducing salt intake has been a public health priority for decades,” said Thomas A. Farley, New York City’s health commissioner. “We can now say we are taking the first steps to achieve it. This was made possible because of agencies and organizations that have joined to make this a truly national initiative, and we especially thank this group of companies that are leading the food industry toward a healthier food supply.

“We look forward to expanding the industry’s participation in this public health effort,” he added.

The recommended daily limit for sodium intake is 1,500 milligrams for most adults and 2,300 milligrams for others. Medical experts contend that increased sodium levels in one’s diet can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

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