You might want to take the latest campaign to reduce our daily consumption of sodium with a grain of salt.
On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t.
Officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have announced two-year and 10-year voluntary goals to slowly lower the average daily intake of sodium by Americans.
The reason is simple. Excess sodium consumption can lead to higher blood pressure and other health problems.
Despite the obvious motivation, nutritionists interviewed by Healthline say these goals may not be easy to obtain.
Our propensity for packaged foods and dining out at restaurants has created a salty habit that our taste buds might find difficult to lick.
Too Much of a Good Thing
On average, people in the United States consume 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.
Over the next decade, FDA officials would like to see Americans reduce that daily intake to the recommended level of 2,300 mg.
While some sodium is necessary, health experts say our excessive consumption has led to increases in high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
FDA officials say one in three Americans has high blood pressure. That includes one in 10 children between the ages of 8 and 17.
FDA officials estimate that reducing sodium consumption by 40 percent over the next 10 years could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs.
“We believe that the time is now to engage in a national dialogue on the problem of excess sodium. Publishing these targets is an important step in that dialogue,” Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a news release.
Most of our sodium intake comes from salt.
And most of the salt on our dinner plates doesn’t come from the shaker on the table. It’s already in our food.
Salt is put in our meals for some positive reasons.
The seasoning helps preserve food, keeping it from spoiling. It also adds taste and texture.
But the proliferation of salt in our diet has raised our daily intake as well as our desire for the seasoning.
High amounts of sodium can be found in breads, frozen pizza, deli meats, packaged foods, pasta dishes, and soups.
In particular, it is waiting for us in the foods we order at restaurants.
“We have tons and tons of salt in our diet,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., a licensed, registered dietitian who is a wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline.
Weaning Us Off Salt
The amount of salt in our diet and the desire to have it are two of the driving forces behind the FDA’s voluntary guidelines.
That’s one reason the FDA adopted 2-year and 10-year plans.
They hope to lower Americans’ sodium intake to 3,000 mg a day over the initial phase, then drop it to 2,300 mg a day by the end of 10 years.
Kirkpatrick and Susan Weiner, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, said that’s an important part of the plan because Americans are simply used to salty cuisine.
“It definitely has had an impact on our taste buds,” said Kirkpatrick.
The FDA guidelines ask companies and restaurants to slowly reduce the amount of sodium in their products.
They’ve divided up our food marketplace into 150 categories to set more specific goals.
Some companies are already on board.
Nestlé officials released a statement early this month, supporting the FDA voluntary guidelines.
The officials noted Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has been reducing sodium in its products since 2005.
“Nestlé agrees with the FDA that broad adoption of the agency’s voluntary recommendations by the food industry can create a meaningful reduction in population sodium intake over time and help consumer taste preferences adjust,” the company statement reads.
PepsiCo, Unilever, and Mars have recently joined Nestlé in supporting the guidelines.
Kirkpatrick said the main challenge for these companies will be maintaining taste while reducing salt.
“The key question will be how do you keep your consumers,” she said.
Weiner says education needs to be a big part of this campaign.
She said if people aren’t aware of sodium’s health dangers, they might just keep using that saltshaker if foods with reduced sodium don’t taste as good.
“That would defeat the purpose,” Weiner told Healthline.
Weiner said people can be taught to use herbs and spices such as rosemary, garlic, onion, and basil to liven up their meals.
“Education has to be a big part of this for it to work,” said Weiner.
She and Kirkpatrick add that restaurants also need to be a major target.
FDA officials report that 50 percent of every food dollar spent in the United States goes to food consumed outside the home.
Kirkpatrick said the main stumbling block in restaurants might be the chefs. They take great pride in their food tasting savory and salt is part of that recipe.
“Taste is going to be a big thing in this campaign,” she noted.
Federal officials agree and they plan to alert consumers as much as possible.
“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “[The guidelines are] about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health.”