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FDA issues guidelines on salt in processed, prepared foods

Although the guidelines aren't mandatory, they could help Americans slash their daily sodium intake by nearly 40 percent.

By Stephen Feller
FDA issues guidelines on salt in processed, prepared foods
Most sodium consumed by Americans is not added from shakers at the table, but cooked into prepared and processed foods so it is not easily reduced by consumers -- leading the FDA to try motivating manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in their products. Photo by Levent Konuk/Shutterstock

BETHESDA, Md., June 1 (UPI) -- Americans consume about 50 percent more salt than doctors recommend, which has led to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issuing draft guidelines for food companies to reduce salt content in their products as a method of helping people be healthier.

The FDA's proposed guidelines, which are voluntary for manufacturers, set two-year and 10-year goals for about 150 categories of processed and prepared foods to reduce their sodium content, according to a press release.

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The agency is aiming for consumers to reduce their sodium intake by about one-third, from 3,400 milligrams per day to 2,300 milligrams per day, a level the FDA says supported by an "overwhelming body of scientific evidence."

Since most salt people consume comes from processed or prepared foods, they have little control over how much goes into most of what they eat, according to FDA officials.

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Higher sodium diets can increase risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Lowering how much salt people consume could save as many as 500,000 lives over the next decade and $100 billion in healthcare spending, the FDA says.

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"The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels," said Dr. Susan Mayne, 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."

The new guidelines, which have been published in the Federal Register, and will be open for comment for at least 90 days, propose a short-term target to lower daily sodium intake from about 3,400 milligrams per day to about 3,000.

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In calling for the "national, practical, gradual and voluntary effort," the FDA has pointed to top-selling pretzel products having already met the short-term target for sodium content.

The proposal establishes a method for working with manufacturers in each of the 150 or so food categories, ranging from bakery products to frozen pizza to soups, to help meet the long- and short-term goals of the FDA.

"While this is a voluntary approach as opposed to the mandatory approach we asked for and that the Institute of Medicine endorsed, it provides clear goals by which companies can be held accountable," said Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a press release. "And, it helps level the playing field for those companies that are already trying to use less salt in their foods."

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