The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday set new food industry guidelines to lower salt in processed and packaged foods such as margarine and hash browns, noting the nationwide “burden of chronic disease.”
The finalized guidance targets 163 food categories of processed, packaged and prepared foods and offers voluntary, short-term goals to lower the amount of salt people consume.
The goal is to decrease average salt intake from about 3,400 mg to 3,000 mg a day, about a 12% drop, over the next 2.5 years.
“As a nation, we are facing a growing epidemic of preventable, diet-related conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and the agency’s work in this area has become even more urgent,” FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement.
“Limiting certain nutrients, such as sodium, in our diets plays a crucial role in preventing diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups; these diseases often result in hundreds of thousands of lives lost and billions in annual health care costs,” they said.
The reduced average salt consumption would still be above the recommended dietary limit of 2,300 mg each day for those 14 and older, but the FDA noted that even modest decreases made gradually can significantly reduce diet-linked diseases.
People consume 50% more sodium than what is recommended, the FDA said, adding that more than 95% of children ages 2 to 13 years old consume too much salt.
Most salt intake comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods — making it difficult for people to lower their sodium consumption.
The guidance covers cream cheese, salad dressing, shelved vegetables, instant potatoes, restaurant soup, soy sauce, gravy, ketchup, instant cereal, white bread, donuts and hot dogs among other food categories.
The FDA said changes across the overall food supply will make lower-sodium options more accessible and reduce salt intake even if people don’t change their dietary behaviors.
The agency said it plans to gradually decrease salt content in the food supply to allow time for peoples’ tastes to adjust. It noted that similar voluntary, gradual approaches have worked in other countries including Canada and the U.K.
Federal regulators initially proposed lowering salt content back in 2016. Some companies in the food industry have already made efforts to lower sodium levels in their products, but the FDA said more support from the industry is needed.
The Food Industry Association (FMI) said it welcomed the FDA‘s new guidance to reduce salt content and its decision to extend the amount of time for businesses to 2.5 years to reach the goals.
“The food industry works tirelessly to deliver a consumer marketplace full of healthy, accessible and nourishing food choices along with information to support healthful eating patterns for all consumers,” the FMI said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the American Frozen Food Institute said its members already offer a range of products with lower salt levels whether that’s reduced sodium or lightly salted or no salt options.
However, some food companies have resisted reduced salt goals, although there is more emerging scientific evidence in support of federal guidance on sodium, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told The Associated Press.
Researchers in China found that people who used salt substitutes with lower sodium levels rather than regular salt had lower rates of stroke and major cardiovascular events, according to a study published last month.
A 2019 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that a recommended limit on sodium was linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease.
The FDA said consumers can take steps themselves to lower their salt consumption by reading food labels, choosing reduced sodium options, asking chain restaurants for nutrition information and consulting with their health care providers about nutrition recommendations.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.