Food industry inches towards salt reduction goals
- Compared to 2009, the food industry reduced sodium levels overall by 6.8% by 2014.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 90% of American adults consume too much salt. Several health organizations recommend lowering sodium consumption to improve health conditions such as high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
- More than three-quarters of the sodium in an average diet comes from packaged or restaurant foods.
In 2009 the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) invited the food industry to meet a voluntary target to gradually reduce the sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over the course of the next five years. Although a 6.8% overall reduction falls short of the goal of 25%, it illustrates some progress from the starting point in 2009.
Close to 30 food companies committed to the NSRI targets, including some of the nation's largest manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurant chains. While food manufacturers achieved some sodium reduction, the report stated that restaurants made "relatively minor progress" with sodium levels changing very little across top chain restaurant foods during the same period.
High sodium intake increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that reducing salt in foods could prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses over the course of a decade in the United States. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, for optimal heart health the American Heart Association recommend consumers eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
In June, the FDA issued a proposed new guideline for food manufacturers and restaurants to further reduce sodium levels and to encourage more companies to join this initiative.
Depending upon the application, salt not only acts as a flavoring agent, but can aid in food preservation, stem microbial growth to promote food safety and extend shelf life, enhance texture, and act as a binding agent. Salt is also inexpensive compared to alternative methods of achieving similar flavor or functional results. Consumers are accustomed to certain flavors in their foods and a gradual change allows the palate time to adjust. Still, there are measures that manufacturers can take that will reduce the sodium in some products.
The FDA approach establishes not only reduction targets, but also a system to help define and measure progress in the U.S. food supply. The short-term target seeks to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day, lower than the current 3,400 mg per day consumed by the average American, and FDA says this goal is "readily achievable."
Manufacturers that target this goal will not only benefit consumers, but do themselves a favor by improving the image of packaged foods. According to the annual Food & Health Survey published by the International Food Information Council, 35% of Americans report trying to limit or avoid packaged foods. One of the top reasons is because of the extra sugar, fat and salt they contain.
- American Journal of Public Health US Food Industry Progress During the National Salt Reduction Initiative: 2009-2014
- Food Ingredients First Just Seven Percent Salt Reduction Over Five Years in Packaged and Restaurant Food Initiative