FDA Wants Daily Food Sodium Cut by 12 Percent, but New Amount Still Over Recommended Limit

Federal regulators are putting pressure on food companies to reduce sodium levels in dozens of foods according to new guidelines, with condiments, cereals, french fries and chips among the items targeted, the Associated Press reported.

The voluntary goals for 163 foods, finalized on Wednesday, aim to lower the amount of salt in Americans' diets, most of which comes from packaged or prepared foods. Salt added to home-cooked meals isn't included, so it would be difficult for people to make these adjustments on their own.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to cut average sodium intake by 12 percent over the next 2.5 years, from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day. But even that amount is still above the federally recommended 2,300 milligrams a day for people 14 and up, the AP said. The FDA said it wants to monitor industry progress and continue creating targets to bring levels closer to the recommended limit.

"By putting out the targets, that really helps to level the playing field across the industry," said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's food safety and nutrition division.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

FDA Targets Sodium
Food companies are coming under renewed pressure from U.S. regulators to use less salt in their products. Above, the nutrition facts label on the side of a cereal box. J. David Ake, File/AP Photo

To get people used to eating less salt, the FDA said, reductions have to be gradual and across the entire food supply so people don't keep reaching for higher-sodium options.

The FDA said it took into consideration industry feedback after issuing its draft guidance in 2016. Ketchup, mustard and hot sauce, for example, were split up and now have different targets. Another difference: The final guidance does not spell out a time frame for reaching longer-term targets.

"It's a huge disappointment that the 10-year goal didn't come out at the same time," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

Mozaffarian said some food companies resisted reduced sodium targets, but that more scientific support has emerged for the federal guidance on sodium. In 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine tied the recommended limit to a reduced risk of chronic disease. A recent study in China also found lower rates of stroke and major heart-related events among people using a salt substitute compared with those using regular salt.

Whether the targets are effective in pushing the industry to lower sodium levels will hinge on how the FDA monitors progress and publicly communicates about it, Mozaffarian said.

In a statement, the National Restaurant Association said it provided feedback to the FDA's draft guidance and that its member companies continue to provide options that address customer demand.

The American Frozen Food Institute said member companies have already been offering lower-sodium options to meet consumer demand.

Even though the guidance is voluntary, companies might feel pressure to make changes to avoid stricter regulatory action, said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has called for mandatory sodium standards.

"If it turns out that the impact is not what we would hope, I think it's back to the drawing board and mandatory cuts are on the table," he said.