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Why the FDA wants food manufacturers to put one-third less salt in their products

By Los Angeles Times (TNS) - Jun 04,2016 - Last updated at Jun 04,2016

Americans eat too much salt, and the government is asking restaurants and food manufacturers to help them cut back.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laid out its request for “voluntary sodium reduction targets” on Wednesday that would reduce Americans’ average sodium consumption by nearly one-third over a decade.

The goal is to get down to a daily maximum of 2,300 milligrammes. Today, a typical American eats nearly 1.5 times that much — 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the FDA.

This rampant consumption of sodium is a major reason why one in three Americans has high blood pressure, a condition that puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke. The threat isn’t limited to adults — 10 per cent of children between the ages of 8 and 17 have high blood pressure too.

Public health experts estimate that if Americans were to reduce sodium consumption by 40 per cent, nearly half-a-million premature deaths could be avoided. The FDA’s target represents a 32 per cent reduction from current levels.

But cutting back on sodium isn’t as simple as sprinkling less salt on our fries or switching from regular to low-sodium soy sauce. That’s because 77 per cent of the sodium Americans eat comes from foods they don’t prepare themselves, according to a study cited by the FDA. Only 6 per cent is added while eating. (Another 5 per cent comes from foods prepared at home and 12 per cent occurs naturally in foods.)

As a result, even those with the best intentions — and the most willpower — could use a little boost from the government, said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

The FDA action “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,” Burwell said in a statement. The first step in the FDA plan is to reduce average sodium consumption to 3,000mg per day within two years — a 12 per cent decline from current levels. FDA officials said this short-term target is “readily achievable”.

Then, over the next eight years, intake should drop all the way down to 2,300mg per day — a further 23 per cent cut.

It sounds like a lot, but an examination of cream cheese shows that it’s doable.

Every 100 grammes of spreadable cream cheese sold in the United States today contains 403mg of sodium, according to the FDA. To meet the agency’s short-term goal, cream cheese makers would need to reduce that to 380mg of sodium. To meet the long-term goal, sodium would need to drop to 340mg.

 

Australia and New Zealand are almost there already — their spreadable cream cheese contains 348mg of sodium per 100 grammes. The versions now sold in the United Kingdom and Ireland have already surpassed the FDA’s targets, with a mere 300 grammes of sodium per 100 grammes.

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