The Obama administration is all about lower salt. They are encouraging food companies and restaurants to reduce the amount of salt in the foods they provide. Most Americans will barely notice the change. The strategy is simple – to slowly reduce sodium levels over time so consumers’ taste buds can adjust. The slow phase-in will also give the food industry time to develop lower-sodium foods.
The voluntary guidelines introduced by the FDA on June 2nd 2016 sets two targets: one for two years out and the other for 10 years out. They target around 150 categories of food. The guidelines ask that companies and restaurants voluntarily reduce the salt and sodium levels in their foods.
This is a first for the United States government – they have never recommended such limits. While the amount of sodium content appears on existing food labels, the government has never proposed or set specific levels.
Officials from the FDA, supported by the CDC (Center for disease control) say that 90% of Americans eat too much salt. While the recommended amount is 2,00 milligrams per day, they say that most people eat closer to 3,400 milligrams per day – a number that has generally stayed steady over time.
The new guidelines target most processed and packaged foods and proposes both an average sodium amount for general categories of foods as well as an upper limit for individual foods. The government hopes that the new guidelines will encourage more consistency – white bread, for example, can have a broad range of sodium levels ranging from 80 milligrams on the low end to 230 milligrams on the high end. If followed, the new guidelines will result in foods that have a lower range of sodium levels.
One technique that food producers could use is replacing sodium chloride (common salt) with potassium chloride. But that might not be enough since sodium chloride is also used as a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria and improve shelf-life.
So far, many companies have lowered the amount of sodium in their foods. Some have touted this while others have kept it quiet. Given that there hasn’t been a huge outcry it is probably safe to assume that consumers have not noticed the change. The Subway chain, for example, say that they have managed to substantially reduce the amount of sodium in their food products.
Predictably, the food industry has lobbied heavily against the changes but the FDA expects that the companies will eventually fall into line with the new guidelines.
The original guidelines were proposed back in 2010. Now that they have been published, some groups think that they should be mandatory and not optional. Miachel Jacobson who is the head of the Center for Science In The Public Interest says:
The government should assess how the voluntary standards work and set mandatory targets if they don’t.
There is one group that is completely opposed to the new guidelines – the American Salt Institute. But, some companies are already on board. According to Healthline, Nestle officials released a statement earlier this month supporting the new FDA guidelines. The statement noted that the company, which is the largest food company in the world, has been reducing the amount of sodium in its products since 2005.
The FDA has provided a Q&A document on the revised guidelines.