New report slashes guidelines for sodium consumption
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reduced intake recommendations for sodium that were set in 2005 after reviewing evidence in the U.S. and Canada. It revised age-based adequate intakes of the mineral, which estimate the amount healthy individuals need to consume.
For infants 6 months and younger, the adequate intake of sodium is 110 mg daily, the report said. For infants 7-12 months, 370 mg daily; children ages 1-3, 800 mg; ages 4-8, 1,000 mg; ages 9-13, 1,200 mg, and ages 14 and older, 1,500 mg. The report said there is limited evidence on sodium intakes below 1,500 mg per day for adults, which prevented the committee conducting the study from considering further reductions.
The report also looked at potassium and noted that both it and sodium have been linked to risk of chronic disease — particularly cardiovascular disease — as well as hypertension and high blood pressure. Consequently, the committee recommended people 14 and older reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less daily.
According to the report, both U.S. and Canadian populations consume more sodium than necessary. As a result, the report states, there is no concern of sodium inadequacy. And while adults with hypertension are recommended to cut back on sodium in their diets, the report says reducing consumption of salt to 2,300 mg or less benefits anybody.
None of the report's recommendations should come as a surprise, since plenty of people are aware that sodium intake in the U.S. is generally too high. The problem is compounded by all the sodium in processed foods and restaurant meals, including bread, pizza and soup. The U.S. and Canada aren't alone in this. A separate report this week from Australia found high salt levels in kids' meals served at that country's fast-food outlets.
The average per-capita daily sodium consumption in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams, or almost 50% more than the recommended level. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration published draft voluntary targets to limit sodium consumption to 3,000 mg daily by 2018 and 2,300 mg daily by 2026. The most recent Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 2,300 mg daily, which is about 1 teaspoon.
As a result, many consumers have consciously limited their sodium intake by checking labels, not adding salt at the table and limiting salty snacks. Manufacturers such as Nestlé, Campbell, Unilever, PepsiCo and others have responded to the trend by reformulating recipes and coming up with innovative ways to reduce sodium in their products.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest was quick to respond to the National Academies' report, with Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman saying it "should put an end to efforts by some food industry groups to spread misinformation and delay vital policy solutions."
"Those efforts are often based on studies that find a higher risk of illness or death at low sodium intakes," Liebman said in a statement. "Today’s report made clear that those findings have a 'high risk of bias' because they are based on flawed estimates of sodium intakes."
Liebman said the FDA should now finalize its voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed and restaurant foods. She also criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent decision to delay implementing sodium reduction in school meals, saying that these new recommendations "make clear that current amounts of sodium in school meals increase the risk of diet-related disease for children."
Whether these policy shifts will occur remains to be seen, but it's clear reducing sodium intake is tied to positive health outcomes. Perhaps indicative of the change in attitude is the impending dissolution of the Salt Institute, the trade association for companies that produce and sell salt for a wide variety of uses. In 2014, the group said Americans were eating the right amount of salt, and if they got too much, the body would simply eliminate it.
It appears the writing may be on the wall for food makers who use a lot of salt in their products — and voluntary reduction programs may be not be enough. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware that their health is a reflection of what they eat. It's likely more of them will now be checking product labels and making purchase decisions accordingly.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Sodium and Potassium Dietary Reference Intake Values Updated in New Report; Introduces New Category for Sodium Based on Chronic Disease Risk Reduction
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium
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