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FDA Recommends Sodium Reduction in Packaged Foods

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FDA Recommends Sodium Reduction in Packaged Foods

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued new guidelines aimed at reducing sodium levels in packaged foods, with the goal of reducing rates of high blood pressure — a key contributing factor to cardiovascular disease.

“The majority of sodium consumed comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods, not from table salt added to food when cooking or eating,” the FDA wrote in its recommendations. “This makes it difficult for all of us to control how much sodium we consume.”

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On average, the FDA wrote, Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day — almost 50% higher than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams for people ages 14 and older. For children ages 13 and under, an even lower intake of sodium is recommended. This high sodium intake is believed to play a major role in rates of high blood pressure, which affects over four in 10 adults and almost six in 10 non-Hispanic Black adults in the United States.

The FDA’s new sodium reduction guidelines apply to commercially processed, packaged, and prepared foods, with voluntary targets that companies are encouraged to meet over the next 2.5 years. This approach “encourages a level playing field by setting voluntary targets for both processed and restaurant foods,” the agency wrote. The FDA is especially encouraging food manufacturers that represent a large proportion of national sales, as well as restaurant chains with a national or regional presence, to adopt the new guidelines.

Different sodium targets for different food categories

The guidelines don’t offer a simple one-size-fits-all approach to sodium reduction. Instead, they cover 16 broad categories of food, with different sodium targets for 163 subcategories of food. But overall, the new targets would support a reduction in the average daily sodium intake of about 12%, from about 3,400 milligrams to about 3,000 milligrams. While 3,000 milligrams is still higher than the recommended intake of sodium, this reduction could potentially still prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of premature death and illness, the FDA wrote.

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Of course, there are also steps that people can take to reduce their sodium content on an individual level. The FDA noted that the foods that contribute most to sodium intake include sandwiches containing deli meats, pizza, tacos and burritos, soups, savory snacks, pasta dishes, burgers, and egg dishes. By paying attention to the sodium levels in prepared versions of these foods — such as restaurant menu items of frozen versions — or by making them yourself, you may be able to significantly reduce your sodium intake.

It’s worth noting that many public health experts and organizations, including the American Heart Association (AHA), viewed the latest guidelines as a good start but not far-reaching enough to reduce sodium intake across the population. “The FDA’s targets represent an important step forward, but lowering sodium intake to 3,000 mg per day is not enough,” the AHA said in a statement. “Lowering sodium further to 2,300 mg could prevent an estimated 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life years and save approximately $40 billion in health-care costs over a 20-year period. We urge the FDA to follow today’s action with additional targets to further lower the amount of sodium in the food supply and help people in America attain an appropriate sodium intake.”

Want to learn more about salt and health? Read “Salt Facts.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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