FDA Puts Pressure on Food Companies to Use Less Salt

Salt Shaker

Photo: Tom Kelley/Getty

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new sodium guidelines for major food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the level of salt in their meals. The news comes just off the heels of the FDA’s plans for a major nutritional overhaul on the way packaged foods are labeled to reflect added sugar and specific serving sizes.

The FDA hopes the new draft guidance will help people consume less than or equal to 2,300 milligrams of sodium (think: a teaspoon) per day, as opposed to the 3,400 milligrams most Americans are eating daily on average.

The guidelines aren’t mandatory and the recommendations won’t be finalized for possibly a year or more. Though this does serve as an incentive for food companies and restaurants to put the salt shaker down and lower the sodium levels in their product offerings.

“Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves,” stated Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in a press release. “We believe that the time is now to engage in a national dialogue on the problem of excess sodium. Publishing these targets is an important step in that dialogue.”

According to the FDA, an increase in sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, which is in direct correlation to heart disease and stroke risks— both of which are in the top five list of leading causes of death in the United States. With so many families watching their salt intake and opting for cleaner and less processed foods in their diet, these new guidelines may make Americans more aware of how much salt they’re consuming to avoid such health complications.

Although there has been some push back among companies in the food industry, many manufacturers and restaurants are already on board in support of the FDA’s sodium regulations, such as Wal-Mart, ConAgra Foods, Nestle, Mars Food, Campbell Soup Company, General Mills, Kraft Heinz Company, and Subway restaurants.

If more restaurants and manufacturers comply with the new FDA-proposed sodium guidelines, here’s what you can expect:

1606w-getty-salt-warning-New-York-Applebee's

Applebee’s menu in New York City. Photo: Jewel Samad/Getty

Salt Warnings on Menus – Efforts are already underway in New York City for chain restaurants to post a salt shaker icon next to menu items containing more than the daily recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams of salt. Other restaurants in major cities could follow suit, offering visual warnings on their menus to raise awareness about salty dishes.

A Gradual Change in Flavor – That slice of pizza or bowl of soup won’t suddenly taste bland once the new sodium recommendations take effect. There will be a slow, progressive change in taste for your taste buds to adapt and for companies to have enough time to develop lower-sodium foods.

Processed Foods will be Categorized – Included in the new draft guidance are definitive measures to reduce sodium for mostly processed and prepared foods. There are two-year and 10-year goals to develop limits on 150 categories of foods, ranging from cereals and sandwiches to pizzas and breads.

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