FDA Requests Restaurants and Manufacturers to Cut Salt in Foods

September 9, 2022

High salt diets have been associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure, which can result in heart disease and stroke. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released guidelines with optional salt objectives for the food industry to lower sodium levels across the food supply.

"Excessive sodium intake is one of the leading causes of heart disease and may consequently worsen symptoms of congestive heart failure," says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian for Mackenthun's Fine Foods.

About the FDA's Recommendations

Although the first sodium source that comes to mind is the salt we sprinkle on food, the majority of the sodium in our diet really comes from processed, packaged, or prepared foods. The FDA's study focuses on the sodium concentration in 163 subcategories of foods, giving it a broad reach. In fact, more than 70% of sodium intake originates from salt added during food manufacture and commercial meal preparation. The list includes everything, including bread, chips, and deli meat. Manufacturers must aim for a certain sodium target for each food.

Sandwiches, pizza, tacos, and hamburgers are just a few of the frequently eaten foods on the list. The average American today consumes roughly 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is 50% greater than the daily maximum recommended intake of just 2,300 mg. This shows that the focus is not just on single-ingredient items. The average daily sodium intake will drop by about 12%, from about 3,400 milligrams to 3,000 milligrams, if the FDA targets are met and sodium is reduced throughout the food supply. According to the FDA, this sodium reduction strategy has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of illnesses and premature deaths in the upcoming years.

"I think this is definitely a step in the right direction," says Megan Byrd, RD, a dietitian, and owner of The Oregon Dietitian. "Bringing sodium down by 400 milligrams a day can still make an impact on our nation's health without making too drastic of a change."

Byrd adds that rather than drastically reducing sodium intake all at once, the FDA is attempting to meet individuals where they are.

"If the FDA were to slash the sodium content of everything, foods that people are used to eating would taste much different and there would be a lot of upset," says Byrd. "By reducing sodium gradually, the FDA will be able to make a change without completely changing the taste of foods, making it more widely accepted."

How Sodium Reduction Will Happen

Since compliance with the FDA guidance is optional, food producers and establishments are not required to do so. However, the FDA is keeping an eye on things. The FDA adds that based on the findings of this monitoring, they will release subsequent targets in the upcoming few years. They will continue to monitor the sodium content of the food supply and will assess progress toward meeting the targets over the next 2.5 years. The objective is to develop a long-term salt intake reduction method that is moderate and sluggish. Will restaurants and food producers follow this voluntary advice? Time will only tell.

"Since sodium reduction in products can be perceived by consumers as affecting taste quality, manufacturers and restaurants may be trepidatious to heed the new FDA guidelines," says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, speaker, and creator of Nourishing Notes podcast.

Furthermore, Shanta Retelny expresses some worry that food producers and eateries might not take these voluntary requirements for sodium reduction as seriously or disregard them. Akhaphong cites a survey that revealed that 75-82% of consumers are extremely concerned about the link between salt and health, and 33-48% claimed they are attempting to minimize their sodium intake. Nevertheless, it is crucial for manufacturers to meet the health needs of their consumers.

"Though this study was published 4 years ago, it may predict the trend that consumers will continue to seek out low sodium options as more people are being proactive about their health," says Akhaphong.

How To Reduce Sodium Intake

This initial salt reduction is voluntary and has a 2.5-year FDA timetable. Here are some ideas if you wish to limit your intake of sodium in the interim. First of all, keep in mind that you only need to lower your sodium intake rather than fully eliminate it.

"Sodium is a necessary mineral and electrolyte in the diet and is needed for fluid balance in the body, as well as to maintain the function of muscle and nerve cells," says Shanta Retelny.

Additionally, salt is a helpful preservative for preserving food and halting bacterial growth. The greatest strategy for lowering your overall salt intake is to consume fewer processed and packaged foods. After that, become familiar with food labels so you may select items with less salt. Start by examining the sodium% Daily Value (%DV).

"My rule of thumb is anything more than 20% per serving is considered a high source of sodium, while anything less than 5% serving is considered a low source," says Akhaphong.

Additionally, it won't assist to merely switch salts. Instead of using salty condiments and dressings, try flavoring food with herbs, spices, and citrus.

"Many people believe switching from table salt to sea salt or pink Himalayan salt will reduce sodium consumption," says Akhaphong. "However, there is not a big significant difference in the sodium content between the salts besides flavor profile."

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