Food companies are coming under renewed pressure to use less salt after US regulators spelled out long-awaited guidelines aimed at reducing sodium levels in dozens of foods, from chain restaurant meals to chips, cereal, and baby food. The voluntary goals finalized Wednesday for 163 foods are intended to help lower the amount of salt people eat, reports the AP. A majority of the sodium in US diets comes from packaged or restaurant foods—not the salt added to meals at home—making it hard for people to make changes on their own.
To get people used to eating less salt, the FDA said reductions have to be gradual and across the entire food supply so people don't keep reaching for higher sodium options. Over the next 2.5 years, the FDA’s target sodium levels aim to cut average intake by 12%—from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day; NBC News reports that's 60 fewer teaspoons of salt. That would still leave average intake above the federally recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for people 14 and older. CNN notes the American Heart Association's "ideal" limit is just 1,500 milligrams daily. But the agency says it will monitor industry progress and keep issuing updated targets to bring levels closer to the recommended limit over time.
The FDA said it took into consideration industry feedback after issuing its draft guidance in 2016. Ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce, for example, were split up and now have different targets. But the guidance is nonbinding, meaning companies aren't obligated to do as the FDA recommends. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock tells NBC News the FDA will reward companies that do comply, though she did not specify what that means.
It's possible companies will feel pressure to make changes to avoid stricter regulatory action, said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has called for mandatory sodium standards. “If it turns out that the impact is not what we would hope, I think it’s back to the drawing board, and mandatory cuts are on the table,” he said. (Read more sodium stories.)