After a delay of five years the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has new recommendations for the reduction of salt in the diet. The design of this guidance from 2016 was not submitted to the legislator or otherwise made official at the time.
The need to reduce salt in the daily diet lies in the major contribution that too much salt makes to the development of high blood pressure. Hypertension is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the number one and number five causes of death in the United States.
The new guidelines are aimed at producers of “commercially processed, packaged, and prepared foods”. That includes all kinds of ready-to-eat food available in stores and the food served by restaurants, fast food chains, food trucks, school canteens and the like. It covers more than 160 categories, from baby food to sushi. Of all the salt that Americans ingest from food, 70% comes from food that needs little or nothing to do before it comes to the table. 20% comes from the salt spreader in the kitchen and on the table at home, 10% is naturally in the food.
A reduction from 3400 mg to 3000 mg is 12% or 1 gram of salt, about a quarter level teaspoon. That is 60 full teaspoons per year, that seems like a lot
The FDA’s proposal is to achieve an average daily consumption of 3000 mg sodium in 2.5 years. That is now 3400mg. The average that is generally seen as a healthy maximum is 2300 mg per day. But the FDA is aiming for a gradual reduction over a medium-term period. This gives the food industry, from large food companies to small producers and restaurants, enough time for reformulation, adjusting the preparations.
Sodium (‘sodium’, in English) is a component of table salt, NaCl, and makes up 39% of the molecular weight. 3000 grams of sodium makes about 7.5 grams of salt. In the Netherlands it is customary to calculate in grams of salt. The maximum is 6 grams per day. Now the use is in The Netherlands at about 8.75 grams. Americans also use so much on a daily basis; the average of 3400 mg sodium equates to 8.5 grams NaCl. There are also other salts with sodium, but they contribute very little.
“This guidance reflects the current view of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject,” the FDA writes in its 23-page nonbinding recommendation. In the introduction it is made clear that the reduction of salt in their products by the industry is ‘voluntary’, voluntary. It is not a law, regulation or rule, but a kind request to the producers.
A reduction from 3400 mg to 3000 mg is 12% or 1 gram of salt, about a quarter level teaspoon. That is 60 full teaspoons per year, which seems like a lot.
The American TV channel NBC released the head of the FDA, Acting Commissionar Janet Woodcock at the word. When asked by the reporter why it had to take so long, and that the FDA is actually lagging behind, Woodcock had no clear answer. “It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s here,” Woodcock said. She also mentioned those sixty teaspoons.
The real reason for the delay is nevertheless obvious. “Politics,” says Marion Nestle in her blog. Nestle also believes that the reduction is too small, that it should be faster and that it should have been ‘mandatory’, mandatory. Nevertheless, she can imagine that the industry is heeding the call and cooperating.
In 2016, voices were already raised to make salt reduction mandatory. At the time, The New York Times released a spokesperson for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a large consumer organization, on the word. They had asked the FDA to mandate the salt reduction, but it remained in the proposal on a voluntary basis. “The FDA just couldn’t go that far because the food industry would go to Congress and say, stop this process.”
Due to the gradual reduction, the bread eater has not noticed that there is less salt in the bread. It works the same with other products
One reason for the long duration of the requested voluntary cooperation is that in other countries it has been shown that gradual reduction is accompanied by an unnoticed habituation to a less salty taste.
Nearly a hundred countries have already taken action against salt. In the United Kingdom, the Action on Salt programme, which started in 2003, is a success turned out. The industry was also asked to cooperate voluntarily for this.
In the Netherlands, collective agreements have been in place since 2009 for the reduction of salt in brood. Bread is an important source of dietary salt. The lowered standards are laid down in the Flour and Bread Commodities Act Decree and the bakery sector generally adheres to this in an exemplary manner. Due to the gradual reduction, the bread eater has not noticed that there is less salt in the bread. It works the same with other products.
In the National Prevention Agreement, no guideline for salt reduction. In the Netherlands, when developing new products, manufacturers are often already looking for alternatives to table salt, such as salt with potassium and herbs. This does not alter the fact that the RIVM concluded this spring that the Agreement on the Improvement of Product Composition can be called ‘failed’ and has hardly led to a reduction in salt intake.
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Less salt in the US – American-style salt reduction: voluntary and minimal – Foodlog