Americans Might Eat Less Salt Under New FDA Guidelines

Salt shakers and other condiments sit on a beverage dispenser table at a Boston Market restaurant in Alexandria, Va. Salt shakers and other condiments sit on a beverage dispenser table at a Boston Market restaurant in Alexandria, Va. Cliff Owen/AP

Americans may have to get used to life with less salt, as the Food and Drug Administration is drafting voluntary guidelines for the food industry to lower sodium levels in food.

As the Associated Press’ Mary Clare Jalonick reports, the FDA is preparing a long-awaited list of voluntary guidelines that aim to reduce the amount salt Americans eat, and in turn, the levels of heart disease and strokes that contribute to thousands of deaths every year. But not to worry: to protect American tastebuds the change will be gradual, and higher-sodium foods like pizza, soup, and pasta won’t suddenly taste bland. (Although the KFC Double Down sandwich, which made a brief comeback last month, would probably cease to exist without the 1,740 milligrams it contains.) 

While health groups would prefer mandatory, not voluntary, guidelines, any move to reduce sodium is welcome and “a good first step” in a country where more than one-third of adults are obese — at a cost of $147 billion to the economy. As Jalonick reports, the food industry has made some reductions in salt, but heavy amounts of sodium continue to lurk in processed foods and calorie-laden restaurant meals.

Americans eat around 1.5 teaspoons of salt every day, which is a third more than the government recommended amount of 2,300 milligrams. Apart from being ever so tasty (I’m looking directly at you, Stacy’s Pita Chips), salt is used to preserve the shelf life of food, prevent bacteria growth, and “improve texture and appearance” of food. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 1,500 milligrams a day,  but there are serious doubts that eating habits will change when Americans continue to eat more than double that, around 3,400 milligrams, a day.

The FDA's guideline drafting comes amid the continued controversy over the nation’s school lunches and Michelle Obama’s efforts to get children to eat healthier food. The GOP recently supported letting some schools opt-out of the school lunch program, and the schools themselves have also been complaining that students are rejecting the whole-grain versions of their beloved tortillas.  

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