Sodium Intake Awareness

November 02, 2011

Do consumers need more guidance when it comes to sodium intake? The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2011 Sodium Survey suggest Americans are not concerned about how much salt they are eating.

While a strong majority of Americans (83%) believe that certain people should be concerned with their sodium intake, especially those with high blood pressure and weight issues, few Americans are worried about their own sodium intake. According to the recent International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2011 Sodium Survey, only nine percent of respondents are extremely concerned about their sodium intake, and only 33% are somewhat concerned.

Study participants named many things higher than sodium when they were asked about the top three most important factors contributing to a healthy diet. Most people (70%) said that increasing fruits and vegetables were important to a healthy diet; 48% prioritized limiting sugar. Just 38% selected limiting sodium. These findings suggest that the message to reduce sodium may not be effectively reaching the public, even as attention to this topic has steadily increased over the years. 

Part of the problem may be that 57% percent of the public is unsure of how much sodium they actually consume, and only two percent state that it is about 3,000 per day. And a majority of Americans (62%) are unaware that there are even any government recommendations regarding sodium. Also, there may be some confusion as to how the dietary guidance on sodium is tailored to specific segments of the population (healthy versus hypertensive, for example), which may explain why a mere eight percent chose the correct recommended amount as 2,300 mg per day for healthy individuals.

Even though the lack of concern and awareness seem to be the leading factors contributing to high sodium intakes in consumers, some consumers (40%) are concerned about possible reductions in taste as a result of sodium reduction. However, on the bright side, more than half of consumers (60%) believe that salt taste preference is malleable. In fact, 60% believe that they could successfully reduce their sodium intake.

Interestingly, consumers do know where sodium lurks, and correctly identify high sodium foods like chips, crackers, hot dogs, frozen meals and pizza, though they often miss identifying grains (like bread) as one of the greatest contributors to sodium intake in the U.S. Most consumers also believe that packaged and pre-prepared foods contribute heavily to sodium intakes, but limiting salt in cooking (72%) and at the table (69%) is the way in which most are taking action toward sodium reduction.

Generally, consumers are not terribly interested in learning more about sodium. If they do learn more, they want the information to come from the medical community (55%), food labels (46%), the government (31%), and food manufacturers (30%). Still, it’s unclear if consumer awareness of sodium reduction efforts is translating into behavior change to reduce sodium consumption in the consumer diet, says Kris Sollid, RD, Manager, Nutrients at IFIC.

“The 2011 Sodium Survey shows that reducing sodium may not always be the lifestyle change that consumers feel they can be most successful in achieving initially. With that in mind, it’s not only important for health professionals to communicate about the multiple diet and lifestyle strategies that can aid consumers in lowering blood pressure, but it’s the most responsible and comprehensive approach as well,” he says.

Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has recommended that healthy Americans without risk of hypertension consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. At risk consumers should consume no more than 1,500 mg per day. The current average consumption of sodium? Over 3,000 mg per day.

“Our messages should strive to instill confidence in people that they CAN make these behavioral changes for the long-term. Such an approach may have a positive impact on getting consumers to consume less sodium,” adds Sollid.

Check back next month to read Part II of our series on Sodium Intake Awareness, which features an in-depth interview on the topic with Kris Sollid, RD, Manager, Nutrients at IFIC.