The crusade against salt is back on.
In new draft guidelines out Wednesday, the FDA proposed that the food industry should try to help limit consumption of salt from an average daily intake of 3,400 milligrams per day down by a third to 2,300 milligrams per day.
The guidelines are voluntary, which means restaurants and food companies don’t necessarily have to comply; they’re simply being urged to. The suggested limits have been a long time coming: The FDA first said it would issue the limits in 2010 following an Institute of Medicine report that found that Americans were consuming too much salt.
Here’s what you should know about the guidelines:
- A suggested cut from 3,400 mg of salt per day to 2,300 mg of salt (about a teaspoon) per day, which comes from NIH recommendations on daily salt intake. Everything from baked goods to soup are included in the suggested limits. The idea is that by targeting processed foods (which make up about 75% of the average American’s daily sodium intake), people could more easily cut back on their salt intake. The hope is to make these changes gradual so that our tastes adjust to the reduction in salt. As the FDA notes, diets high in salt have been linked to high blood pressure, which could put people at risk for heart disease and stroke. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that our bodies do need small amounts of salt to run smoothly. And, according to a recent review of salt studies, too little sodium actually appeared to be related to an increased risk of heart disease.
While it is fair that Americans consume a high amount of processed foods, it’s possible that salt is not nearly the enemy the White House thinks it is. A 2011 Scientific American article summed up the scientific literature, saying there’s not enough evidence that cutting salt decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, even though there are projections that suggest that cutting down on salt will have a drastic impact on Americans’ health.
More research on the effects of a low-sodium diet based on the 2,300 mg per day intake level would be helpful in pinning down exactly what level of salt is just right.