The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks Americans consume too much salt, and is asking food manufacturers and restaurants to do something about it.
The FDA released a request for “voluntary sodium reduction targets” that would reduce the average sodium intake by nearly one-third in the next 10 years. The new goal is a daily maximum of 2,300 milligrams, way less than the average of 3,400 mg of sodium that Americans eat per day now.
Why the recommendation? Well, studies show that too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure, a condition that puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke. Should you try to avoid salt altogether? Absolutely not—sodium is a necessary mineral vital to your health, regulating your blood pressure and playing a role between the electrical signals between your brain and nervous system.
The trick is to consume salt in a moderate amount—and it’s not as simple as cutting back on shaking it over your food. Most of the salt you consume comes not from your table, but from food manufacturers and restaurants that add it to food as it’s being processed or cooked. Salt is an inexpensive ingredient that adds flavor and enhances other ingredients, even in seemingly non-salty foods like cereals and cookies. It also acts as a preservative that retards spoilage.
For their part, manufacturers and restaurants are likely to abide by the new guidelines and to begin to reduce the amount of salt they add. That’s because they would rather voluntarily follow one set of guidelines rather than be legally forced to abide by potentially more stringent regulations in the future. Couldn’t consumers just check food labels before they buy? Yes, but many products, such as deli meats or dishes in restaurants, aren’t packaged or don’t disclose complete nutritional information.
So don’t be surprised if, in the next food years, food labels increasingly tout that they are lower in salt. It could be the next health craze to hit your favorite grocery store.