FDA Targets to Shake Salt Out of Diets



Most Americans eat way too much salt, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that cajoling people to eat healthier will not have much impact. So, the FDA has set targets for restaurants and food manufacturers to work towards that will forcibly shake some of the salt out of diets.

For years, doctors and public health experts have strived to make people aware of the need to reduce their sodium/salt intake and reduce the risk of high blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes and other health issues. The advice fell on deaf ears as people continued dining on processed foods like bacon, cold cuts, potato chips and tomato sauces on pizza or pasta. Now, the government reports that one out of three American adults have high blood pressure and an alarming 10 percent of children between 8 and 17 years of age.

Consequently, the government is asking restaurants and food makers to voluntarily reduce the sodium content in their products with targets for short-term (two years) and longer-term (over the next 10 years) changes. The goal is to help people cut their sodium consumption by one-third. (The FDA reports that the typical American eats 3,400 mg of sodium daily, which is 1.5 times the daily goal of 2,300 mg.)

The FDA estimates that its new “voluntary sodium reduction targets” to shake the salt out of American diets could save about half-a-million lives. It could also reduce health care costs by approximately $100 billion over a decade.

The agency is focusing on packaged foods and restaurant meals because more than 70 percent of the sodium people consume is in the food they buy, not added in cooking or at the dining table.

Why go after those who make the food versus those who consume it? According to the FDA, 77 percent of the sodium those in the U.S. consume is from foods they did not prepare themselves. That is on top of the 12 percent that occurs naturally in foods and 6 percent people actually add while they are eating via a salt shaker, dipping in soy sauce or other tabletop additions. Many restaurant dishes have far more than the target level on their own, but they are just one item people eat in a given day. In addition, some health dishes – like salads – add unhealthy items like bacon bits, cheese and croutons that significantly escalate their salt content figures.

The government targets are not a flat percentage across the board; they vary by food type. For example, Asian sauces, which are notoriously high in sodium – the S in MSG! – have one of the highest target drops, with hoisin, teriyaki, stir-fry and other similar sauce makers being asked to cut salt by 67 percent. Conversely, manufacturers of cream-based sauces like alfredo are being asked to cut sodium levels by 54 percent.

This is not a U.S. only problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommended a similar targets to the new ones as part of a global effort to shake people out of their salt-filled diets. Reportedly, there are 75 countries working to reduce their citizens’ sodium intake. Many countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada, have also made noticeable strides in reducing salt in some products.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Lowering Sodium in the Food Supply
CBS News: 10 sneaky sources of too much salt in your diet
CBS News: These foods will change the most under new FDA salt rules
New York Times: A Smart Way to Help People Eat Less Salt

Photo courtesy of FotoosVanRobin’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license.