Pizza, salad dressings, canned soup and baked goods have something in common – high sodium content. You may not know it because foods high in sodium don’t always taste salty. But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these foods and many others on grocery shelves and restaurant menus are adding too much sodium to Americans’ diets. High sodium contributes to a number of serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
That’s why the FDA is working to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to foods. In draft guidelines developed for the food industry, the FDA set voluntary short-term (two years) and long-term (10 years) goals for reducing sodium levels in close to 150 products. Food items targeted include savory snacks, cheeses, cereals, deli meats and canned vegetables.
Better health is the goal
The goal of the FDA’s guidelines is to help people reduce how much sodium they consume daily. Currently, American adults consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium per day – almost 50 percent more than is recommended by the FDA and the American Heart Association. Most of that– as much as 65 percent – comes from food purchased in grocery and convenient stores, and 25 percent comes from eating out at restaurants, according to the AHA.
The FDA would like to see adults reduce that amount to no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, or roughly one teaspoon of salt.
Most children and adolescents also take in more sodium than is recommended. Current data shows that children ages 6 to 10 consume approximately 2,900 mg per day, while teens consume up to 3,700 mg per day.
The FDA’s guidelines are generously providing companies with specific goals for defining and measuring progress. The companies also have time to learn and utilize new science on sodium reduction technologies.
Within two years, the FDA expects to see sodium consumption reduced to about 3,000 mg per day. And if sodium reductions stay on target, American adults will consume about 2,300 mg of sodium per day by the 10-year goal – a considerable drop.
Is sodium salt, or salt sodium?
Although the words “sodium” and “salt” are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Sodium is a mineral, and salt is a crystal-like compound containing 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Most of the sodium, at least 95 percent of the sodium in your diet, comes from salt.
Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
See sodium content in a typical meal here.
Don’t throw out the salt shaker, yet
There’s no need to quit salt cold turkey. In fact, the FDA recommends you make slow changes. Over time, your taste buds adapt to less sodium. Here are a few ways to help you get started on a reduced-sodium diet:
- Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce), or canned vegetables without salt.
- When available, buy low sodium, lower sodium, reduced sodium or no salt added versions of products.
- Limit your use of sauces, mixes and “instant” products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.
- Compare Nutrition Facts labels on food packages for Percent Daily Value or amount of sodium in milligrams.
Add your voice
The FDA wants to hear from you. If you’d like to comment on the FDA’s draft guidance for sodium reduction, click here.
If you have questions about eating healthy or would like tips on how to reduce sodium in your diet, talk to Providence provider, nutritionist or dietitian. You can find a Providence provider here.