Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium that what most experts recommend, and the FDA hopes to reverse this trend with the new sodium guidelines. “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,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. “Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health.”
Health experts have been advocating sodium reductions for years as a way to combat heart disease. “The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths. Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves.”
Those in the industry aren’t as convinced. “Like others inside and outside of government, we believe additional work is needed to determine the acceptable range of sodium intake for optimal health,” Leon Bruner, chief science officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “This evaluation should include research that indicates health risks for people who consume too much sodium as well as health risks from consuming too little sodium.”
The FDA does admit that researchers are split on what defines healthy sodium intake and consuming too little sodium can have a negative impact on health. By reducing the hidden salt in processed foods, the FDA argues, consumers have more control of their sodium intake and are always free to add additional salt to their meals.
The new guidelines are targeted at large food manufacturers and national restaurant chains. Foods will be placed in 150 categories with each having different sodium targets. Salad dressing, for example, will have larger room for reductions than other foods, like wheat bread. The new proposal is voluntary, and many restaurants and manufacturers have already begun reducing sodium levels in the items they serve.
With the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), the USDA placed reductions targets for sodium levels in school lunches. Moving forward it looks as if the FDA is following suit to reduce sodium levels outside the classroom as well.
Comments on the proposed guidelines are now open on Issues 1 through 4 by August 31, 2016 and Issues 5 through 8 by October 31, 2016.