The FDA Wants You To Eat Less Salt, Hopes The Food Industry Will Help With That

Image courtesy of JD Hancock

When it comes to salt, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agrees with the Centers for Disease Control: we’re all consuming too much sodium, and the food industry should be helping us cut back by cutting it from their products.

Today the FDA announced a draft of new sodium-reduction targets for dozens of categories of foods, in the hopes that the food industry will voluntarily cut down on how much sodium they’re using.

The draft guidance “provides practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry” for commercially processed, packaged, and prepared foods. That could mean anything from a bakery donut to a package of deli meat.

The FDA says the average sodium intake in the country is about 3,400 mg/day, which is far above the recommended 2,300 mg per day. With these targets — which are totally voluntary — the FDA hopes to help Americans gradually reduce sodium intake over the next 10 year or so, until we’re consuming that recommended level.

“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,” Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement.

It’s tough out there for the average American — 75% of the salt we consume daily comes from restaurant and processed foods rather than the salt shaker, the CDC says, and it’s not always obvious where salt is lurking. Unless, that is, you live in New York City, where high-sodium warning labels will be slapped on food soon.

“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,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement announcing the draft targets, which are also meant to bolster efforts food companies have been making on their own recently.

Food behemoths Nestlé and Mars have both recently announced sodium reduction initiatives, so it’s no surprise they’ve come out in favor of the FDA’s draft guidance.

“Nestlé agrees with the FDA that broad adoption of the agency’s voluntary recommendations by the food industry can create a meaningful reduction in population sodium intake over time and help consumer taste preferences adjust,” the company said in a statement.

“FDA’s release of draft sodium-reduction targets will help us further support healthier options for consumers and promote additional participation by all food manufacturers,” Mars chimed in.

The National Restaurant Association, which opposes the salt warning labels rule in NYC, didn’t exactly come out swinging against the guidance, but instead was quick to note that the restaurant industry is already “taking a proactive role in helping Americans live healthier lives by offering a growing number of menu options and choices for customers.”

But that being said, it’s not so easy to just stop serving salt, the group’s vice president of food policy and industry affairs, Joan McGlockton, said in a statement.

“It’s important to note that as restaurants continue to develop lower-sodium items, these efforts are challenged by consumer preference, limited technology, and acceptable lower-sodium options that take into account taste, quality and safety,” she says.

And besides, she adds, availability and feasibility can depend on “many factors,” like consumer expectations, the type of food, the product’s taste profile, and the restaurant’s format.

“We are reviewing this draft guidance to assess next steps for our members,” the group’s statement says.