The Food and Drug Administration, citing an epidemic of food-related illness, released new guidelines Wednesday aimed at reducing the amount of sodium Americans consume in restaurants, school cafeterias and food trucks, or when eating packaged and prepared foods at home.
The recommendations, released after years of delay, aim to reduce average daily sodium intake by 12 percent over the next two and a half years by encouraging food manufacturers, restaurants and food service companies to cut back on their use of salt. That goal translates into 3,000 milligrams of salt — about a teaspoon — compared to the 3,400 milligrams Americans typically consume in a day.
America’s love affair with salty foods has been linked to alarmingly high rates of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure. More than 4 in 10 American adults have high blood pressure; among black adults, that number is 6 in 10, the FDA said.
Much of that excess sodium, about 70 percent, comes from processed and packaged foods and meals served in restaurants, according to researchers.
In a statement announcing the new guidelines, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, said they were the first step in a multi-year campaign to gradually lower the country’s sodium intake to better align with current dietary guidelines for Americans, which suggest a healthy diet should not exceed 2,300. milligrams of sodium per day.
Reducing sodium intake by about 40 percent over a decade, the FDA said, could save 500,000 lives.
While nutritionists and public health experts praised the FDA for addressing the problem, many said voluntary measures were unlikely to move the needle much. Some experts have proposed mandatory limits on sodium, though recognizing that the formidable power of the food industry makes such action at the federal level unlikely.
In a statement, the American Heart Association said the recommendations were an important step in lowering sodium intake, but urged the FDA to lower the daily goal to 2,300 milligrams.
Michael Jacobson, a longtime advocate for healthier diets and author of the book “Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet,” said he was pleased the FDA had finally acted — five years after the agency issued its draft guidelines. had released. But he complained that four decades had passed since an FDA advisory committee first warned of the dangers of excessive salt consumption and recommended steps to reduce its prominence in the American diet.
“It’s just really sad to see the government being so lax about such a serious health problem,” he said.