OTTAWA - The movers and shakers of the health and business communities want to pinch Canadians' penchant for salt.

A panel of experts has offered six general and 27 specific recommendations on reducing people's salt intake.

The group, chaired by Health Canada, released its long-awaited report Thursday in Ottawa. Manufacturers are being encouraged to lower the sodium content of their products over time to meet voluntary salt targets.

The initial aim is to reduce people's average daily sodium intake by about a third, to 2,300 milligrams, by 2016.

For adults, 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day is considered adequate. The group's goal of 2,300 milligrams is considered the most sodium people should consume each day.

But Canadians can't seem to shake their salt addiction. The average person consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily.

The panel says the kind of reductions it is recommending could prevent heart problems and other ailments.

"This strategy has the potential to save thousands of lives over the coming years that would otherwise be lost to cardiovascular disease, stroke and other ailments," said Mary L'Abbe, vice-chair of the group and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Research suggests that reducing the amount of dietary sodium to recommended levels could prevent premature deaths from heart disease and strokes in 30 to 40 Canadians a day — saving roughly 11,000 to 15,000 lives a year.

The 25-member panel, chaired by Health Canada, included representatives from food manufacturing and the food service industry, health-focused organizations, scientists, consumer groups and government.

It's recommendations include:

— Revamping Canada's food-labelling system to make sodium levels clearer to consumers;

— Forcing restaurants to list the amount of sodium in each dish;

— Making companies use the same serving sizes in the nutrition facts table on product labels so it's easier for people to compare sodium levels;

— Updating Canada's Food Guide with more information about sodium and calories;

— Putting more government money into research;

— Monitoring sodium intake and releasing a report each year looking at whether people are cutting salt out of their diets.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who didn't attend the release of the report, thanked the group for its work but wouldn't commit to implementing all of its recommendations.

"Over the coming months, we will work with our governmental partners to assess the report's recommendations and determine how they can best be addressed," she said in a statement released by her office.

The government has already taken some steps to lower sodium in food. Putting nutrition labels on products is mandatory, there are criteria for calling products "low in sodium", "salt-free" or "reduced in sodium," and Health Canada posts consumer information on its website.

The department is also developing sodium-reduction targets for some foods that it expects to finish by early next year.

The working group had to find middle ground between the sometimes competing interests of the business and health communities. The voluntary targets appear to be a compromise meant to appease both groups.

"We're making sure on the table that everybody knows this is an important initiative," said Phyllis Tanaka of the Food and Consumer Products of Canada."But it's definitely got challenges attached to success."

Some companies are already taking sodium out of their products. The Campbell Soup Company says it will cut a quarter of the sodium from 24 of its soups in the coming year.