Home Life & People The FDA Discovered How Much Salt Is Hidden In Restaurant Food, Now They Are Cracking Down With New Rules

The FDA Discovered How Much Salt Is Hidden In Restaurant Food, Now They Are Cracking Down With New Rules

12 min read

God blesses us with food to nourish our bodies. There are so many food options out there available for us to eat, but not all of it is good for our health. Moderation is key in maintaining a healthy weight and living a healthy lifestyle. We all need some amount of sodium (or salt) to live,  but many of us end up ingesting way too much sodium in our diets. Now, the FDA is cracking down in attempts to reduce the amount of sodium that American’s eat.

How and Why the FDA is Urging Food Makers to Cut Back on Salt

Every day, Americans are getting too much sodium in their diet, and the majority comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker. That is why we have developed draft guidance with sodium reduction targets to encourage industry to gradually reduce sodium in a wide range of foods. We are recommending both voluntary short-term (2 years) and long-term (10 years) targets.

Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Americans now consume on average about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day, while federal guidelines recommend less than 2,300 mg for the general population. Reducing sodium in foods will prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses over a decade.

One in three adults has high blood pressure, and you are more likely to have high blood pressure as you get older. This tendency for blood pressure to rise with age is seen mostly in western countries where sodium intakes are high. Children and adolescents also are more likely to have increased blood pressure with higher sodium intakes, and studies suggest that the preference for sodium is affected by early life consumption habits. Children who consume higher sodium foods tend to continue to consume higher sodium foods later in life.

Why it’s hard to avoid sodium

Sodium is added to almost all processed foods. Some foods are known to be high in sodium, but what’s also important is how much and how often the food is consumed. Certain frequently consumed foods such as pizza, sandwiches, deli meats, pasta dishes, snacks, bread and rolls are known to contribute significantly to sodium intake. On the other hand, some high-sodium foods, such as dried fish, do not contribute as much to overall sodium intake because they typically aren’t consumed in large quantities, or as often.

Sodium is added to processed food for a wide variety of reasons. For example, it is used to control microbial growth, which can cause food to spoil and to cause illness. Sodium also is used for taste and for texture, leavening, and fermentation. While sodium is necessary for many reasons, today’s food supply contains too much sodium.

The totality of scientific evidence, as reviewed by many well-respected scientific organizations, continues to support lowering sodium consumption from current levels.

Consumers can, and should, check labels when they are available, but not all foods are labeled; an example is deli meats you buy at a counter. Even with labeling, consumers still have a difficult time eating the recommended amount of sodium because sodium levels in today’s marketplace are just too high. The majority of the sodium we eat comes from processed and prepared foods before we add salt at the table or during cooking.

Restaurants in the crosshairs too

Americans eat about one-third of their food calories and spend about half of their food dollars outside the home so it’s important that restaurants are part of the solution, along with the rest of the food industry. Including restaurant foods is necessary to achieve sodium reduction goals and for people to adapt their taste buds whether they are eating at home or outside the home.

The sodium in your diet comes from a lot of different types of foods — especially mixed dishes that have a lot of components and sauces. Our approach is to encourage reductions in a variety of products — not just ones that are really high in sodium. This way, we aren’t recommending drastic reductions that will significantly affect the taste of food, and you won’t have to give up your favorites. We carefully studied the range of popular foods in today’s marketplace to see what reductions are possible based on what some companies are already doing.

We also know that people usually don’t notice small reductions (about 10 to 15 percent) in sodium. Over time, taste buds get used to even larger changes, especially if they are made gradually. In addition, there are other ways companies can reformulate, or change, certain foods while still making them tasty to consumers. Examples include adding savory herbs and spices, salt blends, or other flavorings and innovations that enable salt reduction.

Some food companies are making progress already and we applaud their leadership. But even with these efforts, the sodium content of the food supply remains high. Part of the problem has been the focus on making a few foods very low in sodium, instead of making most foods a little lower in sodium. We want to give the industry common targets across a broad range of foods.

Changes are coming

We are encouraging companies to meet short-term targets in two years (note that some foods already meet the short-term targets). We expect that if the food industry reaches these initial targets more broadly, it would reduce average sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day. We expect the long-term, 10-year targets would lower sodium in the food supply to reduce average sodium intake to close to 2,300 mg per day.

The World Health Organization has recommended a global reduction in sodium intake that is close to what our targets would achieve. It is difficult to compare countries in terms of progress because sodium intake varies worldwide, and different approaches may be needed based on foods typically eaten. But many countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have made efforts to reduce sodium in their foods.

A key part of FDA’s long-term plan is to monitor progress toward our goals on a regular basis to understand changes that are occurring. We will work with other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on these monitoring efforts.

Share this information to warn others about how much sodium is really in their food.

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