New FDA guidelines aim to reduce salt in American diets

The Food and Drug Administration issued voluntary guidelines Wednesday for food manufacturers and restaurants aimed at reducing the average amount of sodium Americans consume by 12% over the next 2 1/2 years.

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Dietary guidelines currently suggest that people aged 14 and older consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, amounting to about one teaspoon of salt. However, Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium on average each day, according to the FDA, a majority of which comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods.

The new guidelines issued Wednesday come as Americans face a growing epidemic of diet-related conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure. The latter condition is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, according to the health officials. More than 4 in 10 Americans have high blood pressure, a number that rises to about 6 in 10 in Black adults, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from chronic disease related to poor nutrition, and by some estimates, the total economic costs range upwards to a trillion dollars per year,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Improving the quality of food and nutrition is not only important to boost individual health outcomes – it is an essential step towards tackling widespread health disparities.”

The new guidelines are aimed at reducing the average sodium in Americans’ diets to 3,000 mg each day. Although the number is higher than recommended levels, FDA officials said they hope the guidance begins a gradual reduction of sodium intake to address diet-related diseases.

>> Read the full guidelines released by the FDA

Public health experts applauded the move, with the American Heart Association saying in a statement that the new guidance “will play a critical role in helping people across the country achieve healthier levels of sodium and improved well-being overall.”

The group further urged the FDA to continue to push for lower sodium levels in the food supply.

“While educating the public about the consequences of consuming too much sodium is a valuable tool, it is not enough to truly impact consumers’ health due to the high amount of sodium in the food supply,” the group said. “Lowering sodium further to 2,300mg could prevent an estimated 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life years and save approximately $40 billion in health-care costs over a 20-year period.”

The guidelines are voluntary and finalize interim guidance issued in 2016. They apply to more than 160 categories of processed, packaged and prepared foods, including cereals, baby foods, pasta and soups, and meals from chain restaurants.