New sodium guidelines: FDA asks chefs, food producers to cut the salt

The Food and Drug Administration is urging the restaurant and the food production industries to significantly cut back on the use of salt in order to help Americans reduce their sodium intake for health reasons

While acknowledging the "important roles" sodium has in both food safety and food "technology," the FDA issued nonbinding recommendations for businesses that commercially process, package, and prepare foods.

More than 70% of our sodium intake comes from sodium added during food production and commercial preparation, i.e. packaged foods and restaurant foods, not from home cooking, the agency noted. That means that Americans are hard-pressed to reduce sodium intake on their own.

"Average sodium intake in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams [per] day," the FDA said. That is significantly higher than the 2,300 milligrams per day recommended for anyone 14 and older under current dietary guidelines.

The FDA said sodium reductions have to be gradual and across the entire food supply so people don't keep reaching for higher sodium options.

"By putting out the targets, that really helps to level the playing field across the industry," said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's food safety and nutrition division. 

The agency's new guidelines are designed to achieve what it calls "measurable voluntary short-term goals'' over the next 2.5 years. The FDA's target sodium levels aim to cut average intake by 12% — from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day. That would still leave average intake above the federally recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for people 14 and older. 

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But the FDA said it will monitor the progress in the food industries and will keep issuing updated targets to bring levels closer to the recommended limit over time.

"To avoid the potential for unintended consequences, we plan to monitor the levels of other nutrients (e.g., added sugars and saturated fat)," the FDA stated in its guidelines. "Our goal is to encourage gradual, efficient reduction of overall sodium content using effective and sustainable strategies that maintain other measures of nutritional quality." 

"This is a step in the right direction, it's progress," Dr. John Whyte, WebMD's chief medical officer, told Fox News. "And because we're going to have less sodium in food, it's gonna make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices."

Too much sodium in your diet could raise blood pressure, which is a major risk for hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. So limiting sodium intake could be a key factor in disease prevention, many health experts say.

With The Associated Press and Fox News.

A mason jar and a gray ceramic bowl containing kosher salt; a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon

A jar and a bowl of salt. (FOX 5 NY Photo)