Food companies in the US are coming under renewed pressure to use less salt after regulators set out new guidelines aimed at cutting the average person’s intake by 12%, by reducing sodium levels in dozens of foods including condiments, cereal, french fries and potato chips.
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday updated its guidelines for 163 foods, including those that are commercially processed, packaged and prepared. Over the next two and a half years, the FDA’s target sodium levels aim to cut average intake from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day.
The new standard is still higher than the nationally recommended sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for people 14 and older. Nevertheless, the agency explained that the two-and-a-half-year goals “are intended to balance the need for broad and gradual reductions in sodium and what is publicly known about the technical and market constraints on sodium reduction and reformulation”.
A majority of the sodium in American diets comes from packaged or restaurant foods, not the salt added to the meals at home, making it difficult for people to make adjustments on their own. As a result, the FDA said reductions have to be gradual and across the entire food supply.
“Given the resources involved in successful reformulation to achieve voluntary sodium reduction and to have the most public health impact, we specifically encourage attention by food manufacturers whose products make up a significant proportion of national sales in one or more categories, and restaurant and similar retail food-chains that are national or regional in scope,” the agency said in its guidance.
“By putting out the targets, that really helps to level the playing field across the industry,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s food safety and nutrition division.
In a statement on Wednesday, the American Heart Association said the FDA’s targets are an important step towards reducing sodium consumption – but did not go far enough.
“Lowering sodium levels in the food supply would reduce risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, heart attack and death in addition to saving billions of dollars in health-care costs over the next decade,” the association said.
“Lowering sodium intake to 3,000mg per day is not enough. Lowering sodium further to 2,300mg could prevent an estimated 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life years and save approximately $40bn in healthcare costs over a 20-year period,” it added.
The FDA said it took into consideration industry feedback after issuing its draft guidance in 2016. Ketchup, mustard and hot sauce, for example, were split up and now have different targets. Additionally, another difference is that the final guidance does not spell out a time frame for achieving longer-term targets.
According to Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, whether the targets are effective in pushing the industry to reduce sodium levels will depend on how the FDA monitors progress and publicly communicates about it.
Associated Press contributed to this report