Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

Government to issue guidelines for lowering sodium in foods

Published: 4:11 pm CDT, June 17, 2014

Food manufacturers and restaurants — suppliers of three-fourths of the sodium in Americans’ diets — may soon be asked by the government to lower sodium in their foods.

The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to issue voluntary guidelines asking the food industry to lower sodium levels, agency commissioner Margaret Hamburg told The Associated Press. Hamburg said in a recent interview that sodium is “of huge interest and concern” and she expects guidelines to be issued “relatively soon.”

“We believe we can make a big impact working with the industry to bring sodium levels down, because the current level of consumption really is higher than it should be for health,” Hamburg said.

Sodium has been shown to contribute to heart disease and stroke, the nation’s top killers. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Even so, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg, said Elliott Antman, M.D., professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and president-elect of the AHA.

“It’s very important to recognize that too much sodium leads to water retention and high blood pressure,” said Antman. “High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because many people don’t have symptoms and it leads to heart attack and stroke. Reducing sodium in our food supply is a major step in helping people live a healthier lifestyle.”

The AHA sees the FDA guidelines as a positive step, Antman said. The voluntary nature of the guidelines, “is allowing the food industry to do the right thing,” he added.

“Successful sodium reduction requires action and partnership at all levels — individuals, healthcare providers, professional organizations, public health agencies, governments, and industry,” Antman said. “Any efforts to reduce sodium content is an important step in reducing it in the food supply.”

He said having common sodium targets “allows the industry to have a level playing field so no one member of the industry makes a reduction in sodium while others do not.”

Many members of the food industry have already reduced sodium in their products and expanded the number of lower-sodium products.

Antman said it will be interesting to see what will happen when the FDA calls on industry to make voluntary reductions.

Sodium targets are expected to vary by the category of food and become progressively lower over time.

“This will help,” said Antman. “It does take time for individuals to become accustomed to less sodium in their diets.”

Voluntary sodium reduction programs have been implemented in the United Kingdom, Canada, and in New York City. In the U.K., it led to a 15 percent reduction in sodium intake, lower blood pressure and fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke, according to an April study published in the BMJ Open.

For more information: