A press announcement in late 2021 mentioned that Americans consume more than 50% of the recommended sodium content in a single day. The research also shows that more than 95% of children (2 - 13 years old) exceed the recommended limits of sodium for their corresponding age groups. The article then mentions that about 70% of the sodium we consume is via processed and commercial food preperation. The average sodium intake for an average person living in the U.S. is 3,400 mg/day. 14 year-olds and older have a current limit of 2,300 mg/day.
As a disclaimer, we all need sodium and it is an important nutrient to have. In fact, under consumption of sodium can be a problem as well. The problem is, the overwhelming majority of us our over-consuming it.
Sodium increases blood pressure, especially excessive sodium intake. There are numerous studies on this subject including one of the largest studies: the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology trial. This trial analyzed sodium levels via urine in more than 100,000 participants across 18 different countries and concluded that those with higher blood pressure had higher sodium intake.
The scary part about that trial is that scientists, which that same population, found that people who consumed more than 7,000 mg/day of sodium were at a higher risk of heart disease and earth death.
The Actual Guidelines
The FDA Industry Sodium guidelines are a great read around the "sodium epidemic" that exists in the United States. The guidelines mention that many previous public health efforts to reduce sodium intake have failed. This led to the conclusion that there must be a direct reduction of sodium in the food supply itself, since 70% of the sodium we are consuming in the United States comes from that commercially-prepared food supply and processed foods.
The overall plan of the guidelines is to reduce sodium levels by 12% gradually so that American consumers don't lose the taste for the commercially-prepared food products. They mention that with the advancement of food preparation technology and strategies that the amount of sodium to achieve the original function of that sodium-containing ingredient can be reduced. These "functions" they refer to are likely things that add flavor and preserve our foods to add more shelf-life to them. The guidelines additionally imply that food preservation in processed foods will be more difficult to innovate on versus a high-sodium ingredient which adds flavor.
Some Ways Companies Can Reduce Sodium
Their guidelines read: "We do not provide detailed guidance on the technical details of reducing sodium in this document, although we reviewed the publicly available literature on potential opportunities and technologies for reducing sodium. Experts from the food industry are well-positioned to innovate by exploring combinations of strategies and technologies that are most appropriate for each food category and each food product reformulation while maintaining food safety. However, we want to make clear that broader public health goals and maintenance of nutritional quality are important considerations in developing sodium reduction or reformulation strategies."
After reading this, let's look at some of the considerations that they have reviewed. You can read this as well on the bottom links of their guideline page.
Physical Modification of Salt to Increase Perceived Saltiness This includes changing how the salt is distributed and concentrated, changing the surface area of the salt, coating salt particles with another material such as lipids, proteins and carbohydrates.
Direct Substitution with Other Mineral Salts They mainly bring up here that industries can replace the salt with potassium chloride. This is something I even do at home on occasion if I feel I've had too much salt on the day. A great product for consumers here is lite salt. Lite salt is great for the keto diet too!
Sodium Reduction and Compensation with Flavor Modifiers This suggests the use of food additives to replace the sodium which can amplify the flavors which already exist in the food.
First of all I am happy with these guidelines and I think the FDA is right in tackling the issue at the industry level rather than victim-blaming consumers. Many of the foods out there which are cheap and convenient for us to consume are loaded with sodium. My critique is that these guidelines very much read as a company-first, consumer health-second approach. When the guidelines read "health goals and maintenance of nutritional quality are important considerations", that really makes me feel like they aren't requirements like they should be, only considerations.