It looks like the U.S. government is ready for change—at least when it comes to food—as they're now taking a stance on salt, setting specific sodium recommendations in an effort to help Americans lead healthier lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.
While the new guidelines proposed by the FDA are voluntary, meaning the food industry won't be required to comply, the idea is to pressure major food manufacturers and restaurant chains to continue their efforts to reduce salt levels. In total, the guidelines provide target sodium levels for 150 categories of foods, from bakery products to soups to deli meats, the press announcement explains.
The long-delayed recommendations (the FDA first said it would release guidelines back in 2010) are all part of a plan to help Americans gradually reduce their sodium intake from the U.S. average of 3,400 mg per day (that's about 1 1/2 teaspoons) to 2,300 mg per day—the level recommended by experts. That's because, as the FDA and CDC explain, the link between high sodium intake and health issues like high blood presure—a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke—is clear. (Just be sure you don't cut salt out completely—new research shows low-sodium can be just as bad for your health!)
To put this in perspective, researchers estimate that lowering U.S. sodium intake by 40 percent over the next decade could save up to half a million lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs. (Of course, sodium isn't all bad—keeping your intake within a certain amount is crucial to your workout and helps keep you healthy.)
"The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels," said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the press release. "Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves." That's right, while Americans on the whole are trying to watch the amount of added salt in their diets, the problem isn't due to a heavy hand with the salt shaker.
While some are upset the FDA is only proposing targets rather than formal sodium limits, it's certainly a step in the right direction. It may be some time before you actually notice a difference at restaurants and in packaged foods, but you can always lower your intake in the meantime by watching out for these sneaky sources of sodium.