Just weeks after unveiling an updated Nutrition Facts panel, FDA today issued a draft guidance to the food industry calling for voluntarily reducing sodium in processed and commercially prepared food. Average daily intake of sodium for Americans is estimated at approximately 3,400 mg/day, which is well above recommended levels and puts the population at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The draft guidance aims to empower consumers to reduce their average sodium intake.
The draft short-term (2-year) targets seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day. The long-term (10-year) targets seek to reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. The targets, which extend to nearly 150 food categories, are intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants and foodservice operations to reduce sodium in foods.
Included in the draft guidance is a common system for defining and measuring progress on reducing sodium in the U.S. food supply. The draft targets factor in data on consumer preferences, as well as current industry efforts to reduce sodium. FDA said the short-term targets, which seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day, are readily achievable, and many foods, such as top-selling pretzel products, have already met the short-term target. (Be sure to download INSIDER’s Digital Issue “The Salt of the Matter: Trends in Sodium Reduction" to learn about the current state of the sodium-reduction market and what food product designers are doing to reduce sodium in their products without compromising flavor and functionality.)
The agency is encouraging adoption by food manufacturers whose products make up a significant portion of national sales in one or more categories and restaurant chains that are national and regional in scope. FDA estimates less than 10 percent of packaged foods account for more than 80 percent of sales. USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates about 50 percent of every food dollar goes to food consumed outside the home. Therefore the draft voluntary guidance also covers common foods served in restaurants and other foodservice establishments.
But sodium reduction doesn’t just mean taking the salt shaker out of someone’s hand. Sodium is found across all sectors of food including snacks, bakery and cereal, sauces and soups, convenience foods, condiments, bread, cereal, processed meat, desserts, dairy and frozen foods. The fact is sodium plays many functional roles in foods like texture improvement, color enhancement and microbial control, and the solution to sodium reduction isn’t as simple as cutting a percentage of salt from processed foods.
As pressure mounts to reduce sodium in the food supply, it is important to note many food and beverage companies have been proactive and taken steps to lower sodium levels in their products. While sodium is a top concern for consumers, market research shows fewer consumers are looking for sodium on labels, suggesting reduction efforts will continue to rest primarily on manufacturers.
FDA noted Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend, with the majority of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods. FDA noted one in three individuals has high blood pressure, which has been linked to diets high in sodium and is a major risk factor cause of heart disease and stroke. That number climbs to one in two blacks and includes one in 10 children aged 8-17 years. In some of these studies, researchers have estimated lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs.
“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants," HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. “Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health."
“The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels," said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths. Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves."
A 90-day public comment period runs from June 2, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2016, on Issues 1 through 4 listed in section IV of the notice announcing the availability of the draft guidance and within 150 days (by Oct. 31, 2016) on Issues 5 through 8 listed in section IV of this notice.