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FDA Commissioner Promises Guidance to Help Reduce Dietary Sodium

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is promising in media interviews that new sodium guidance, probably dependent on voluntary compliance by the food industry, is coming soon.

The American diet of processed and restaurant foods — not so much the salt shaker on the table — is responsible for our average per-person consumption of 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. Groups such as the American Heart Association and Institute of Medicine would like to see that number cut by about one-third.

Sodium is added to food so it doesn’t taste so bland, but salt intake at high levels contributes to high blood pressure, strokes, and other health problems. However, there have also been health studies showing the pitfalls of reduced sodium consumption.

That may be why Hamburg wants to stay on the high ground of reducing America’s overall sodium consumption, but doing so through voluntary actions from food manufacturers and through individuals acting in consultation with their doctors.

Even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg favors reduced sodium consumption and launched his National Salt Reduction Initiative, a voluntary partnership approach, to help get salt levels down. Walmart, ConAgra Foods, and Subway restaurants are among those pledged to make sodium reductions in their menus.

Many say the food industry could make significant reductions in sodium use if only it would get more creative on flavorings.

High sodium intake is not a problem that is uniform throughout the population. People older than 50, those with high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, and African-Americans should eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the American Heart Association.

In addition to taste, sodium can be used to extend shelf life and even prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria. The food industry wants any sodium dictates to be based only on “rigorous assessment of all available scientific evidence.”

© Food Safety News
  • Michael Bulger

    Can the News Desk point me in the direction of ” health studies showing the pitfalls of reduced sodium consumption”?

  • dflynn

    Click on “showing the pitfalls” link. It was added after original publication.

    • Michael Bulger

      Thanks, Dan.

      The Harvard School of Public Health wrote a response to the media coverage that followed the IOM report. According to the HSPH, the news coverage “risk[ed] misleading people because it overlooks the main finding of the Institute of Medicine report, which was that the current dietary guideline recommendation of 2,300 mg of sodium per day for the general population is in fact supported by ample research.” (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2013/05/17/the-new-salt-controversy/)

      I don’t think Hamburg is concerned with the dangers of reducing sodium intake, seeing as most Americans consume sodium in levels that greatly exceed those recommended by all the major health organizations. I would hypothesize that FDA is opting for voluntary guidelines because they don’t have the time/political will/guts to propose regulations.