Stakeholders laud FDA’s potentially life-saving draft voluntary sodium reduction guidance

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Sodium reduction Food

In an effort to prevent upwards of 500,000 premature deaths from heart attacks and strokes in the next 10 years, FDA has set ambitious sodium reduction targets for food manufacturers and restaurants across nearly 150 food categories to be met in the next two and 10 years.

In draft voluntary guidance​ released June 1, FDA outlines short-term, 2-year targets that if met would reduce American’s average daily sodium intake 11.8% to 3,000 mg per day. Longer-term 10-year targets in the draft guidance would cut average sodium consumption an additional 23.3% to 2,300 mg per day. 

The agency explains in the draft guidance that sodium reduction efforts are essential because Americans currently consume about 50% more sodium per day than the maximum 2,300 mg recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. This over consumption is associated with high blood pressure, which currently impacts about one in three Americans and is major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

FDA adds that targeting the amount of sodium added to commercially processed, packaged and prepared foods in the US should offer the most significant impact because currently three-quarters of sodium in the US diet is added during food manufacturing and commercial food preparation.

Targets are intended to be feasible using existing technology

In issuing the guidance, FDA recognizes the efforts that many food manufacturers and restaurants already are taking to reduce sodium levels, and says the new targets are intended to complement these actions.

Likewise, FDA says the new targets take into account the important role that sodium plays in food safety, stability and other functions and, as such, the new goals maintain concentrations that serve these functions.

In addition, the proposed short-term targets are “intended to be feasible using existing technology and are within the range of currently available commercial products,”​ according to the draft guidance.

Our preferred approach is intended to avoid large, abrupt changes to individual products

The agency also recognizes the impact of such lofty goals on the taste and flavor profiles of products, which if made too quickly could prompt consumers to add salt, sugar, fat or other undesirable nutrients to products at the dinner table to compensate for the changes.

“Our preferred approach is intended to avoid large, abrupt changes to individual products that might result in noticeably altered taste, greatly reduced shelf life, or other undesirable product outcomes,”​ which is why the more ambitious reductions have a longer 10-year horizon and will “allow for flexibility in reformulation based on differences in food categories and products,”​ the agency notes in the draft guidance.

Guidance appears to satisfy CSPI

The draft guidance follows a lawsuit filed in October by the Center for Science in the Public Interest aimed at forcing FDA to issue mandatory salt-reduction targets, which the advocacy group filed after FDA failed to respond to its 2005 citizen petition requesting salt limits.

“While this is a voluntary approach as opposed to the mandatory approach we asked for and that the Institute of Medicine endorsed, it provides clear goals by which companies can be held accountable. And, it helps level the playing field for those companies that are already trying to use less salt in their foods,”​ CSPI president Michael Jacobson said in a written comment.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), meanwhile, said it would "welcome a dialogue with FDA on its sodium reduction targets,​" although it also argued that "additional work is needed to determine the acceptable range of sodium intake for optimal health."

Sodium: How much is enough?

2013​ report​  from the IOM muddied the waters​ over sodium reduction by prompting a confusing academic argument about data on intakes between 1,500mg/day and 2,300mg/day (click HERE​ ​) when the wider message - that excessive sodium consumption is bad for your heart, and all Americans need to eat a lot less - was lost, argues the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Industry players laud targets

Mars Food is among several industry giants that have already taken up the mantel to reduce sodium substantially in its products, and which support the draft guidance.

Between 2007 and 2012, Mars Food cut sodium in its products by 25% and recently announced an additional commitment to reduce sodium an additional 20% across its food portfolio by 2021. With this new goal in mind, Mars Food lauded FDA’s release of the draft voluntary guidelines on sodium.

“The release of the draft voluntary guidance will drive a broader dialogue within the food industry and help inform consumers about the role sodium plays in their diet and overall health,​” the company said in a written statement.

“FDA’s release of draft sodium reduction targets will help us further support healthier options for consumers and promote additional participation by all food manufacturers,”​ it added.

Mars also was one of several US food companies to call on FDA for sodium reduction guidelines earlier this spring. Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever also echoed Mars’ call for action. In addition, General Mills, McDonald’s, Nestle and Walmart also have committed to significant sodium reduction across their product lines.


"Our approach encourages gradually reducing sodium in the majority of foods that contain it... We have divided the foods containing sodium into about 150 categories ranging from cereals to combination foods like pizzas and sandwiches, and draft sodium targets for each category. Not only is this approach more precise than a “one size fits all” strategy, but it also recognizes that different foods have different potential for sodium reduction.

"We are confident that the two-year targets are readily achievable and that it makes sense to act on them first. That’s in part because many companies have already taken steps on their own initiative to reduce sodium in certain foods, and we applaud these efforts."

Susan Mayne, Ph.D.Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Public comments due soon

Companies, public health advocates and other stakeholders have 90 days from June 2 to comment on the two-year sodium-reduction targets, and 150 days to comment on the 10-year targets, according to the draft guidance.

These comments will help shape the final guidance, which FDA emphasizes will be voluntary, in part to allow the agency to easily update it as science and technology around sodium reduction evolves.

Download the new targets HERE. 

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1 comment

Sodium and Potassium

Posted by Neal Hammond,

The goal ought to be reduction in Sodium, and increase in potassium (mainly from plant sources.) A ratio of 2.5:1 K:Na would be a good place to start.

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