This week the FDA issued guidelines targeting packaged food and restaurant meals that contain the majority of sodium that Americans consume on a daily basis. These voluntary proposals are the result of the Obama administration’s efforts to push the food industry to reduce the amount sugar and certain fats in an effort to improve the health of consumers and reduce medical costs.
Food industry critics maintain that these efforts are based on conflicting scientific evidence and could increase food costs and impact the taste and texture of certain foods. The fight against salt has been brewing for several years, with studies linking prolonged overconsumption of salt to elevated blood pressure, which can contribute to the incidence of heart disease and strokes.
So what exactly are the FDA’s recommendations? The FDA wants to cut individual daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams over the next decade. (The current average is around 3,400 milligrams.) The agency is targeting 150 categories of food, including deli meats, soup, bakery items and pizza. Officials have stated that it’s been difficult for consumers to control their sodium intake on these particular items because the sodium is already added.
The proposed FDA rules give food manufacturers 2 years to begin cutting sodium levels in products and up to 10 years to make further cuts. The longer time period is to recognize the time it takes to reformulate new food products. The majority of the burden falls on prepared foods, which the FDA says accounts for about 70% of all sodium consumption. This puts the pressure on companies such as PepsiCo, currently the largest US manufacturer of salty snacks, to reformulate their products.
Sodium is used as both a flavoring and a preservative in packaged foods and reducing salt in products will require a substantial investment from food makers. A few companies have already committed to cutting sodium levels in their products. General Mills Inc. committed to cutting sodium by 20% in 10 categories by 2015 and reached it’s goal in seven of those categories. Mars Foods Inc. said it has reduced sodium in it food products and chocolates by 25% since 2007 and wants to cut levels by another 20% by 2021.
The initiative is estimated to cost at least $20 million and take 20,000 employee hours to achieve. This includes reformulating products, putting healthier recipes on packages and improving employee cafeteria meals, according to a spokesperson.
Click here for suggestions on how to reduce your sodium intake.