Government Sets New Recommended Salt Levels for Foods

Some major food companies have already announced their own moves to reduce salt.

ByABC News
June 1, 2016, 8:04 AM

— -- Top U.S. health officials have announced a new set of recommendations to help Americans cut the salt — setting new target sodium levels for foods in more than 100 categories, ABC News has learned.

The guidelines, released Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration, set two- and 10-year goals, and officials stress that many companies have already met or are working toward the two-year goals.

FDA officials say the new guidelines would help cut more than 1,000 mg of sodium a day from the American diet.

The recommended maximum daily intake of salt is 2,300 mg, but most Americans consume 50 percent more than that.

“A lot of it comes in your prepared and processed foods,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told ABC News. “So most folks don’t actually know that you are getting it. Whether it is your bread, your salad dressing or when you are out a restaurant, you are getting quite a bit then.”

The guidelines place foods in 150 categories, outlining new target sodium reductions in everything from bacon and fries to pasta sauces, soups and salads with toppings. For instance, breakfast bakery products would have to reduce sodium by 65 percent and frozen soups by 42 percent over 10 years.

According to the HHS, 75 percent of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker, and 50 percent of every dollar spent on food is consumed outside the home.

“What we are doing is creating a situation where the consumer is in control,” Burwell said. “If that consumer wants to add more sodium, they are going to be able to do it. What the consumer can’t do now is take it out of the product and have real knowledge about it.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which sued the federal government when it failed to respond to a petition seeking more regulation of salt, applauded today’s move.

“Americans need to reduce their sodium intake to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “If companies achieved the FDA’s proposed targets, it would have a huge benefit for the public’s health. If companies don’t achieve these voluntary targets, it would be clear that mandatory limits will be necessary to reach safe sodium levels.”

But not everyone is expected to welcome the changes. The Salt Institute wrote a letter in April to the HHS and the Department of Agriculture asking them to stop going forward with salt reduction guidelines.

“The federal government pushing for reformulation of almost every food product made in the U.S. is unprecedented in its audacity. Every citizen will feel the effect of this overreach,” wrote the group’s president, Lori Roman.

Burwell said, however, that making these changes gradually would help consumers adjust their taste for salt and could also save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs over the next decade.

“We know that there is a relationship between sodium consumption, high blood pressure and therefore those diseases [heart disease and stroke],” she said. “And so we are hopeful ... that by having a gradual decline in the amount of sodium in America’s diets, that we will be healthier and it will be less expensive.”