New FDA Guidance Aims to Cut Sodium in Processed Foods

Megan Brooks

October 13, 2021

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued voluntary, short-term sodium reduction targets for food manufacturers, chain restaurants, and food service operators for processed, packaged, and prepared foods, with an eye toward reducing diet-related conditions such as heart disease and obesity.

According to the FDA, more than 70% of total sodium intake is from sodium added during food manufacturing and commercial food preparation.

The new targets seek to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3400 mg/day to 3000 mg/day, about a 12% reduction, over the next 2.5 years, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, and Susan Mayne, PhD, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in joint statement.

Although this reduction keeps the average intake above the recommended limit of 2300 mg/day for individuals 14 years and older as per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "we know that even these modest reductions made slowly over the next few years will substantially decrease diet-related diseases," they added.

The FDA first proposed recommendations for reducing sodium content in draft guidance released in 2016.

Since, then a number of companies in the food industry have already made changes to sodium content in their products, "which is encouraging, but additional support across all types of foods to help consumers meet recommended sodium limits is needed," Woodcock and Mayne said.

They emphasized that the new guidance represents short-term goals that the food industry should work to meet as soon as possible to help optimize public health.

"We will continue our discussions with the food industry as we monitor the sodium content of the food supply to evaluate progress. In the future, we plan to issue revised, subsequent targets to further lower the sodium content incrementally and continue to help reduce sodium intake," Woodcock and Mayne said.

AHA: A Good First Step That Does Not Go Far Enough

In a statement, the American Heart Association (AHA) said the new targets will play "a critical role in helping people across the country achieve healthier levels of sodium and improved well-being overall. These targets will be an important driver to reduce sodium consumption, which can have significant health benefits and lead to lower medical costs."

"Lowering sodium levels in the food supply would reduce risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and death in addition to saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs over the next decade," the AHA said.

But the AHA also said lowering sodium intake to 3000 mg/day is not enough.

"Lowering sodium further to 2300 mg could prevent an estimated 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life-years, and save approximately $40 billion in healthcare costs over a 20-year period," the AHA said.

The AHA is urging the FDA to "follow today's action with additional targets to further lower the amount of sodium in the food supply and help people in America attain an appropriate sodium intake."

FDA. Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals. Published online October 12, 2021. Full text

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