FDA Proposes Sodium Reduction Plan

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Jun 06, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration, Washington, has issued a set of large-scale, voluntary sodium reduction guidance targets for food manufacturers, foodservice operations and restaurants, spanning nearly 150 food categories, to be met in the next two and 10 years. The goal of the long-term target is for Americans to limit sodium consumption to 3,000mg per day in the short term (two years) and 2,300 mg each day in the long term (10 years), well below today's average sodium intake of 3,400mg per day.

Salt has long been linked to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, though recent research has challenged salt's "unhealthy" perception. And food and beverage companies have long managed to use salt and skate past the public scrutiny, as well as try to uncover a way of lowering sodium without hurting flavor. Yet Americans are still eating too much of it every day, according to the FDA.

Still, sodium intake in the U.S. continues to exceed the recommendations of most experts by 50 percent, reports the FDA. "While a majority of Americans reports watching or trying to reduce added salt in their diets, the deck has been stacked against them. The majority of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker," says the agency in a June 1 press release.

"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 Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. "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."

The FDA estimates less than 10 percent of packaged foods account for more than 80 percent of sales. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, about 50 percent of every food dollar goes to food consumed outside the home. Therefore the draft voluntary guidance also covers common foods served in restaurants and other food service establishments.

"Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths," said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves."

A common system is included in the targets for defining and measuring progress on reducing sodium in the U.S. food supply. The approach is to establish reasonable, voluntary reduction targets for most processed and prepared foods, categorizing foods in nearly 150 segments from bakery products to soups. The draft targets factor in data on consumer preferences, as well as current industry efforts to reduce sodium. The FDA says it's confident are readily achievable. In fact, many foods, such as top-selling pretzel products, have already met the short-term target, it says.

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