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FDA asks U.S. food producers to cut down salt to lower Americans' intake

By Jonna Lorenz
FDA asks U.S. food producers to cut down salt to lower Americans' intake
The guidelines aim to decrease Americans' average salt intake by about 12% -- from 3,400 milligrams per day to 3,000 mg per day -- over the next two and a half years. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday issued sweeping new guidance that asks food producers and restaurants nationwide to cut back on salt for a couple years to reduce Americans' sodium intake.

The guidelines aim to decrease Americans' average salt intake by about 12% -- from 3,400 milligrams per day to 3,000 mg per day -- over the next two and a half years.

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The guidance is part of a gradual approach the FDA is taking to bring sodium consumption closer to dietary guidelines of 2,300 mg per day for people over 14. The regulator expects to issue revised targets in the future to incrementally reduce sodium intake.

"By limiting certain nutrients like sodium in our diets, we can help prevent diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups, often resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives lost and billions in annual health care costs," Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock and Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director Susan Mayne said in a statement.

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"The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these health disparities and the need for improved nutrition, as people with cardiovascular disease and other underlying conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19."

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The guidelines are voluntary, but Woodcock and Mayne said they hope the effort becomes "one of the most significant public health nutrition interventions in a generation."

The FDA says packaged, processed and restaurant foods account for about 70% of all sodium consumed in the United States. The new guidelines offer targets for 163 categories of processed, packaged and prepared foods.

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Some food manufacturers began making changes to the sodium content in their products after the recommendations were first proposed in 2016.

Industry groups, such as the American Frozen Food Institute, are working with FDA to reduce sodium intake.

"Our members have made, and continue to make, strides to reduce the sodium content of their foods by offering a variety of products to meet consumer demands," the AFFI said in a statement.

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"While sodium reduction is complex due to its role in food safety and preservation, industry capabilities and importantly, consumer palates, the frozen food industry looks forward to working with the FDA to make progress toward these sodium reduction goals."

Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA guidance gives "clear and achievable benchmarks by which public health officials and watchdog groups like CSPI can monitor the progress companies and brands make."

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The center petitioned the FDA in 2005 to limit salt in processed food and sued the agency in 2015 for failing to take action.

Lurie applauded the move and called on the FDA to finalize more ambitious, long-term targets.

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