Americans consume about 50% more sodium than recommended. Sodium is a mineral necessary for our body to function properly. But too much sodium is associated with high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Nearly all of the sodium in our diet comes from consuming sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt.
But the salt shaker is not where we’re getting most of our sodium. Rather, processed and prepared foods are the primary source of sodium in our diet. And food doesn’t have to taste salty to have a lot of sodium. Foods such as bread, pasta, pastries, and soup, for example, are often high in sodium.
At the population level, we consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day in the United States (compared to the 2,300 mg maximum we’re supposed to be following). Of course, at the individual level, consumption will vary quite a bit. Still, about 90 percent of adults in the United States consume more sodium than the recommended limit.
To address this problem, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has developed a set of draft voluntary guidelines to help industry reduce the sodium content of processed and prepared foods. The public comment period is set to end shortly – this Wednesday, Aug 31. You can read the guidelines and provide feedback to the FDA here.
The FDA’s voluntary guidelines aim to reduce sodium consumption from the current level to the recommended limit within ten years (to 3,000 mg by two years and 2,300 mg by ten years). The FDA has suggested this gradual approach because it would allow people to slowly become accustomed to the taste changes and/or for industry to develop taste innovations for their food products.
Of course, for some individuals, the answer might be to simply cut back on processed and prepared foods and to closely examine nutrition labels for sodium content. But for others, these are not easy choices. Because sodium content in packaged and prepared foods is not something we can easily change on our own, governmental guidance may be helpful in this regard. If the voluntary guidance goes into effect, industry compliance would result in less sodium in our food supply. But if we so choose, adding sodium is fairly easy to do – just get out the salt shaker.