Yet I still exceed the recommended daily limit of 2300 milligrams of sodium by eating out or adding processed or prepared ingredients to the meals I prepare.
Take salad dressing, for example.
“I have found salad dressings where a single serving (2 tablespoons) contained more than 23% of the daily value of sodium,” said Dr. Stephen Juraschek, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who studies sodium and l ‘hypertension.
“Most of my patients don’t add salt to the table, but don’t realize that buns, canned vegetables and chicken breasts are among the worst culprits in the United States,” he said. .
Chicken breasts? Yes, because salt is added in the manufacturing process to plump the breasts so that they appear bigger and more appetizing. In fact, hidden sources of sodium are everywhere in our diets, Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, said at a press briefing.
“Who would think of bread? And yet, bread is one of the highest sources of sodium that people consume,” said Woodcock. “The problem is so cumulative: the tomato sauce, the peas, the bread, the vinaigrette. Pretty soon your whole meal has hidden salt, and it’s really hard for people to deal with it right now- same. “
In fact, over 70% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from what was added by the food industry to products later bought in stores or restaurants, according to the FDA.
Set of voluntary guidelines
Woodcock and his team at the FDA said on Wednesday they wanted to help people manage their salt intake by asking the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels in 163 categories of the most processed, packaged and prepared foods. consumed.
“The goals are to reduce the average sodium intake from about 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, or a reduction of about 12%, over the next 2.5 years,” said the FDA in a press release announcing final guidance.
However, five years ago, the agency released a draft directive that set a much lower level: 2,300 milligrams, or about 1 teaspoon of table salt. That’s the recommended daily limit set by federal nutritional guidelines and the American Heart Association (people at high risk for hypertension should aim for 1,500 milligrams).
Although she applauded the FDA’s action as a “step forward,” the AHA said the manufacturers’ 3,000 mg / day target was not low enough.
Reducing sodium further to 2,300 mg could prevent approximately 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life years, and save approximately $ 40 billion in health care costs over 20 years “the AHA said in a statement.
Woodcock said the FDA set higher levels of 3,000 milligrams to help the public – and therefore manufacturers – wean themselves over time from a preference for saltier foods.
Will it work? Experts who spoke to CNN were skeptical.
“The first problem is that it’s voluntary. Food companies don’t have to pay any attention to it at all,” said Marion Nestle, nutrition researcher, who has authored numerous books on food policy and marketing. , including “Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Distort the Science of What We Eat.”
“It is not clear that the voluntary recommendations were helpful,” Juraschek said, noting a study he conducted showing that US consumption of salty foods has increased despite the FDA’s call for action. 2016 for food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels.
“I don’t think the manufacturers I’ve spoken with inherently like the idea of harming people, but with the expense of shutting down a product or changing industrial processes, I think a “voluntary” mandate may not provide enough activation energy to make a difference, ”he said.
“I would say that the change should not be delayed,” he added. “The FDA and government agencies must be more aggressive in providing mandatory limits on salt in foods as well as requiring more transparent warning labels.”
Consumers must help
Woodcock said industry action will be monitored over the next several years and, if necessary, further action could be taken by the agency. It’s an important follow-up action, former CDC director Dr Tom Frieden told CNN in an email.
“Today’s new FDA guidelines are an important first step,” said Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies.
“But a first step is just that – a first step. It will be essential for the FDA to monitor industry’s compliance with these voluntary guidelines, and, if the industry does not take even these modest steps to reduce sodium , then mandatory warning labels and the like of actions will be necessary, “Frieden wrote.
While acknowledging the difficulty of reading nutrition labels and understanding sodium levels in the foods they buy, Woodcock and his team have repeatedly called on consumers to help with efforts to reduce salt in the American diet.
“We really rely on the public to ask for these (low sodium foods) and be positive about them because it will help us move towards a healthier food supply,” said Susan Mayne, who heads the Center for FDA Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Until government and manufacturer actions coincide to create products with less salt – and make it easier to find salt in the foods we are served – there are actions people can take to reduce their addiction. with salt.
The good news is that it doesn’t really take long – just a few weeks – for a person’s taste buds to adjust to eating less salt, Juraschek said.
One way to do this is to adopt the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It has been shown in studies to reduce high blood pressure, even in people with resistant hypertension (high blood pressure that cannot be controlled despite using three different drugs).
The DASH meal plan includes four to six servings of vegetables and another four to six servings of fruit; three servings of whole grain products; two to four servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products; and several servings of lean meats and nuts, seeds and legumes each day.
Here are some more tips for reducing salt in your diet:
- Review nutrition labels – in addition to salt, the label might use terms like monosodium glutamate (MSG, common in Chinese foods), sodium citrate, sodium alginate, and sodium phosphate.
- Familiarize yourself with common sources. The most salty foods are breads and rolls, pizzas, sandwiches, cold cuts and cold cuts, and soups. burritos and tacos, salty snacks such as chips, popcorn and crackers, chicken, cheese and omelets.
- Stop using the salt shaker. It helps, even if most of your sodium intake comes from processed foods.
- Try Spicing Without Salt: “This strategy has been shown to reduce sodium intake,” Juraschek said.
- Ask for nutritional information at restaurants and try to avoid entrees with excess sodium.
- Avoid eating out and eat more minimally processed foods at home by eating more fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Remember that a daily goal for adults is just 1 teaspoon of salt or 2,300 milligrams. For children under 14, it’s even less – 1,500 to 1,900 milligrams per day, or about a third of a teaspoon.