Nutrition-wise blog

FDA takes aim at sodium in packaged and prepared foods

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. June 9, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance for industry on voluntary sodium reduction goals that focuses on the amount of sodium in processed, packaged and restaurant foods. Why did the government step in?

Efforts to reduce sodium intake over the past 40 years have been mainly educational and are not successful. Americans are still consuming too much sodium, approximately 1.5 times more than they should be. Approximately three-quarters of the sodium in Americans' diets comes from sodium added to foods during manufacturing and at restaurants. Therefore, lowering most everyone's intake of sodium must involve those preparing commercial foods.

Why do packaged and restaurant foods have so much sodium? Sodium or salt in food limits bacterial growth, adds stability and enhances flavor.

Average sodium intake in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) a day. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Internationally, more than 35 countries have developed initiatives to support the reduction of sodium in the food supply.

Why should we eat less sodium? Excess sodium is a factor in the development of hypertension, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, the first and fifth leading causes of death in the U.S., respectively. It is estimated that reducing the population's average sodium intake to 2,200 mg a day could prevent between 280,000 and 500,000 premature deaths over 10 years and that sustained sodium reduction would prevent additional premature deaths.

There has been controversy over lowering sodium intake. A 2013 Institute of Medicine report confirmed a positive relationship between higher levels of sodium intake and the risk of heart disease. It also found both substantial evidence of population benefit and no evidence of harm associated with reductions in sodium intake down to 2,300 mg a day.

It will take time before we see changes in our food supply and at restaurants. In the meantime, you can lower your sodium intake by reading labels carefully, eating at home more than restaurants, and including more fresh, low-sodium frozen or canned, and minimally processed foods to your diet. Season foods with herbs and spices and enhance flavors with vinegars and citrus juices such as lemon or lime.

June 09, 2016