The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday proposed voluntary guidelines that would reduce salt in processed foods and restaurant meals, saying Americans can’t make needed reductions in their sodium consumption simply by putting down the salt shaker.
The agency’s long-awaited proposal establishes salt reduction targets for a broad range of foods, from baked goods to soups, officials said. Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of salt a day. If the industry followed the guidelines, the FDA said, that would help reduce that level to about 3,000 mg a day in two years and 2,300 mg in a decade.
“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health.”
The agency said that many food companies already have reduced salt in their products but that, overall, the salt content of the food supply remains high.
“We want to give the industry common targets across a broad range of foods,” the FDA said.
Federal health officials said several rigorously conducted studies have shown that high salt consumption increases blood pressure and that high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure affects about a third of Americans overall and about 50 percent of African-Americans.
Reducing sodium in the food supply will “save lives, reduce health care costs and save money,” said Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who participated along with FDA officials in a call with reporters.
But not all scientists agree that Americans should sharply reduce their salt intake. And some have suggested that, at least for some Americans, too little salt can do as much damage as too much salt. Some Republicans in Congress also have sharply criticized federal efforts to set salt targets.
Leon Bruner, chief science officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents makers of food, beverages and other consumer products, said companies welcome “a dialogue with FDA on its sodium reduction targets and look forward to working with the agency to ensure the best and most recent science is taken into account when determining sodium intake levels for optimal health for all Americans.”
He added: “Like others inside and outside of government, we believe additional work is needed to determine the acceptable range of sodium intake for optimal health. This evaluation should include research that indicates health risks for people who consume too much sodium as well as health risks from consuming too little sodium.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that has long pushed the FDA to reduce salt in the food supply, said the agency’s action was a response to a lawsuit that the group filed in October seeking action on its 2005 petition asking for government action.
CSPI president Michael Jacobson noted that while the group had pressed for mandatory standards, the FDA action nevertheless “provides clear goals by which companies can be held accountable. And it helps level the playing field for those companies that are already trying to use less salt in their foods.”