The Washington Post and the New York Times both reported that the FDA, in an effort to reduce sodium intake, is about to launch an initiative that will place limits on the amount of salt food manufacturers will be allowed to use in their products.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been trying to get the FDA to regulate salt in processed foods since 1978—32 years! Its report, Shaving Salt, Saving Lives, which I found through Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics, shows how public health could benefit from such an initiative.
One of the biggest reasons I feel the FDA should limit the amount of salt in our foods, aside from the fact that excessive sodium intake has been linked to hypertension, which can cause heart disease, heart failure and stroke (among other things), is that Americans have become accustomed to hyper-salty tastes. You eat enough processed foods, you start to forget what “normal” tastes like. As we become conditioned to a certain degree of saltiness, we seek out more potent sources to satisfy that expectation.
Most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt added by manufacturers to pre-packaged foods, so regulating the amount of salt in those products could make a big difference for a lot of people who regularly consume them.
Consider this: a canned soup must contain 480 mg of sodium to carry a “healthy” label, but if you eat the whole can, you’re taking in around 960 mg. Couple that with, say, an organic frozen dinner that contains 590 (a pretty low amount for frozen foods) mg per serving: that’s a total of 1,550 mg. And oh yeah, the Egg McMuffin you had for breakfast has 840 mg. Right there, without taking into account everything else you eat over the course of the day, that’s 2,390 mg of sodium. It’s recommended that most people take in less than 2,300 mg per day.
If the FDA were to take action as they’re being urged to, the change would occur gradually to give people’s palates time to adjust to the reduced levels of sodium. Also, there would be different limits set for different food categories.
While sodium is an important nutrient that people need to regulate their extracellular fluid volume, many Americans are consuming multiple times what they actually require thanks to excessive amounts of salt in the food they buy. Regulating the amount manufacturers are allowed to pump into their food could really give the consumer a little more control over their health.