Since it is processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker, that contribute 75 percent of Americans salt intake, the Food and Drug Administration is asking for the help of the food industry and restaurants to reduce the high intake of sodium in our diets. The FDA released a draft guidance for the food industry to help reduce sodium consumption over the short, two year, and longer term, ten year, increments.
The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day: 50% more than the daily 2,300 mg recommend by the U.S dietary guidelines. The guidance aims to reduce average daily sodium intake to 3,000 mg in two years and 2,300 mg in 10 years, enabling the food industry to gradually reduce the sodium in processed and prepared foods.
With Americans spending half of their food dollars eating out, the sodium intake from processed and prepared foods has been identified as a major public health concern. “There now is compelling evidence that higher sodium intake in the diet is associated with high blood pressure, a major determinant of heart disease and stroke; and lowering sodium intake lowers blood pressure,” according to Dr. David Siscovick, Vice President for Research at the Academy. If the food industry adheres to the new guidelines, researchers say it would prevent 250,000 to 500,000 premature deaths and save billions in healthcare costs.
The guidance is voluntary, and so the FDA will need to work over the next few years to create strong partnerships with industry leaders. The agency is hoping to use the market to its advantage. The majority of packaged foods and chain restaurants are owned by just a handful of conglomerates. By targeting and partnering with industry leaders, and guiding changes in their products first, the FDA believes other products and companies will follow suit. Currently, Nestle and Mars Inc. have taken steps to reformulate their products to align with the new guidance.
The guidance establishes sodium targets for 150 food categories including soup, cheese, and bakery products. The FDA plans to monitor the progress towards the goals with other government agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Share your thoughts on the draft document here.
By Rebecca Abraham, Policy Associate and David Siscovick, Senior Vice President for Research