Karen Langhauser LongBy KAREN LANGHAUSER, Editor

The last person who told me what I could or could not eat was my mother — and I think I was 10 years old. As an adult, I thought I was finally free from meal-time oppression; however, apparently the Institute of Medicine is now filling in for my mom.

This morning’s top story discussed the Institute of Medicine’s urging of the FDA to set maximum sodium levels for food items, and force the food industry to change.

Now, I’m not denying the health benefits of cutting sodium — and I don’t think the food industry is either. In fact, several food giants — including PepsiCo, ConAgra , Campbell Soup, General Mills, to name a few — have already voluntarily pledged to reduce the sodium content in many of their products. But the key word here is “voluntarily.” The idea of the FDA forcing food manufacturers to change the recipes of their products has been and will continue to be met with nothing but backlash — from the industry as well as the very consumers the mandate is meant to benefit.

Why? Because American consumers are used to having a choice. And food manufacturers are very well equipped to give consumers this choice. Government-mandated sodium levels will open the door for regulation of all food ingredients — and will lead to limited, less tasty food options.

Instead, this is actually a great opportunity for the food industry to expand their product lines and build up their low sodium niche markets. The food industry knows consumers are more focused than ever on improving their health  and many consumers will, in fact, choose healthier options when these options are available. But the choice needs to be in the hands of the individual consumers.

Forcing the food industry to make recipe changes and forcing consumers to accept these new products is only going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth … and this taste will predictably be very bland.

Does the IOM’s recommendation leave a bad taste in your mouth? Sound off by e-mailing