FDA Urges Food Companies to Cut Salt With New Sodium Guidelines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued voluntary sodium-reduction guidelines for the food industry designed to lower the salt intake of most Americans over the next 10 years, and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Average sodium intake in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day (or 1½ teaspoons). That’s nearly 50 percent higher than what is recommended by physicians and dietitians. The FDA’s draft short-term (two-year) and long-term (10-year) voluntary targets for the food industry are designed to help Americans gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

One in three individuals has high blood pressure, which has been linked to diets high in sodium. Hypertension is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. That number climbs to one-in-two African Americans and even includes one-in-10 children aged 8-17, the FDA says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled several studies which reaffirm the benefits of sodium reduction in lowering blood pressure. In some of these studies, researchers have estimated lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs, the FDA points out.

“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a statement.

Many people already know to restrict adding salt to their plates at the dinner table. The biggest problem is with processed foods commonly available at your local grocery, according to physicians, dietitians and the FDA.

“Anything that comes in a can, jar or box can be loaded with salt, even if it doesn’t taste salty,” said Yeisel Barquin, M.D., an internist and family physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “Most people know they need low-sodium diets, but they just think about the salt you add to food at the dinner table.”

Salt helps maintain the body’s balance of fluids. But salt also helps prevent spoilage and keeps some foods safe to eat. Its role as a preservative is partially why salt is so prevalent in processed foods.

Adding to the confusion on sodium levels is the relatively new craze known as “sea salt,”promoted by food companies that make chips and other snacks. But sea salt contains about the same amount of sodium as the more common salt. The natural form of “sea salt” may give consumers the wrong impression that it doesn’t count in low-sodium diets.

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