Salt: It’s Now All About Salt

June 03, 2016

On Wednesday, the government decided to get involved with the food industry's approach to sodium and proposed voluntary guidelines.

By Al McClain, Contributing Writer  

It took 33 years since Marietta Whittlesey first published her book Killer Salt in 1983 for the FDA to make a serious move to reduce salt in our foods. This week FDA released voluntary guidelines on sodium content for packaged foods like bread, salad dressings, canned soups and cheese, as well as restaurant meals. 

The FDA has outlined two goals: 

  • Short-term 2-year targets - that if met would reduce American’s average daily sodium intake 11.8% to 3,000 mg per day. 
  • Longer-term 10-year targets - that would cut average sodium consumption an additional 23.3% to 2,300 mg per day.

Killer Salt made some bold claims about sodium’s impact on our health. In particular, the food industry was aghast with the claims of “evidence linking depression, bloating, weight gain, migraines, hypertension and kidney disease to the salt we crave and consume.” Some 33 years later the debate still continues on whether or not the government should step in to help consumer packaged goods companies and thus help consumers reduce sodium content. 

The good news is that many food brands have been reformulating and reducing sodium, but despite efforts, the average American adult still consumes 3,400 milligrams a day — equivalent to about 1.5 teaspoons of salt; while that might not sound like a lot - a little salt goes a long way. That’s nearly 50 percent more than the maximum 2,300 mg recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. American’s get most of their sodium from processed foods; in fact the salt shaker adds trivial amounts of sodium to our diet. According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people who eat low-salt foods do not try to compensate for the lack of salt later in the day and additionally, once people were on a low salt diet they came to like lower levels of salt in their foods. The dietary shift changed their behaviors and helped them reduce the risks from consuming too much sodium. 

The majority of processed and prepared foods — about 150 categories, will be affected - including pizza, deli meats, canned soup, snacks, breads and rolls. The guidelines are open to public comment for up to five months.   

Voluntary targets would help level the playing field regarding added sodium in food. According to Susan Mayne, Ph.D. Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “There is huge variation in the amount of sodium added to similar products. Salad dressings range from 150 milligrams to 2,000 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams (nearly half a cup) and that’s just one example."

The FDA guidance is clearly a move in the right direction to help Americans reduce their sodium intake and improve their health, we now hope that food brands will support the voluntary effort. If not, there is always the alternative of mandatary restrictions. Either way, America's health benefits.