The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking food manufacturers and restaurants to cut the salt in their products to reduce Americans’ sodium intake. On Wednesday, the federal agency made a sweeping recommendation for more than 160 processed, packaged, and prepared food categories.
“What we’d like to see is the food industry gradually lower the sodium content,” acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock told NBC News.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, equal to about one teaspoon of table salt, for individuals age 14 and older.
The American Heart Association concurs and advises moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. High-sodium diets have been associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which can cause stroke and heart disease.
However, 90% of Americans consume too much sodium. On average, Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65% comes from processed food bought in stores, 25% from restaurants and just 10% is from added salt when cooking and eating at home.
The new recommendations aim to lower the average salt intake to 3,000 milligrams a day, a 12% decrease. Although this is higher than the recommended intake, experts acknowledge it is a practical step toward reducing cases of high blood pressure. Currently, 116 million Americans — 47% of adults — have hypertension. And in 2019, hypertension contributed to more than 1 million deaths in the U.S.
The FDA is asking food manufacturers and restaurants to make these changes over the next two and a half years, although changes are voluntary and non-binding. Still, the FDA may be able to reward those who comply while taking certain actions against those who don’t.
In 2016, the agency issued similar guidance, which was largely ignored by the food industry. However, experts believe pressure from the federal government improves the possibility that major manufacturers will act on the guidelines.
“Our members have made, and continue to make, strides to reduce the sodium content of their foods by offering a variety of products to meet consumer demands – lower sodium, reduced sodium, lightly salted, and no salt options. While sodium reduction is complex due to its role in food safety and preservation, industry capabilities and importantly, consumer palates, the frozen food industry looks forward to working with FDA to make progress toward these sodium reduction goals,” The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) said in a statement.
The National Restaurant Association also stated it has worked with the FDA on the new guidance and and “continues to provide options to address customers’ desires and health needs.”