FDA Issues New Salt Guidelines and Urges Everyone to Cut Their Intake

published Oct 15, 2021
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Mason jar filled with salt.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

It’s often said that the reason restaurant food tastes so good is that chefs have a heavy hand with the salt. While we can’t technically prove that to be true, the FDA thinks that we should still pay attention to the amount we’re consuming — and, ideally, significantly lower that amount.

In a recommendation issued this week, the FDA asked everyone — from restaurants to food brands — to drastically cut salt in their products and dishes. Currently the recommendation is that Americans take in no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but the average American is actually taking in around 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.

“The targets seek to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, about a 12% reduction, over the next 2.5 years,” the FDA said in a statement. And while that might not sound like a big deal to some, it’s important to remember that 2,300 milligrams works out to about 1 teaspoon of table salt.

FDA’s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, went on to note that the large amount of sodium each American consumes every day could also be related to a decline in health: “Too much sodium is making people sick,” she told NPR in an interview. “It’s leading to hypertension, and that causes both heart disease, strokes, and even kidney damage, and it’s preventable.”

Whether we take in our salt by eating at our favorite restaurant or by eating processed foods, the bottom line is we’re consuming it at a higher rate than recommended. As high blood pressure and heart disease continue to become a major problem in Americans, the decrease in salt intake could help to keep some people healthier longer, or even avoid issues in the first place.

So what will this mean for our favorite snacks? Can we really imagine fries or chips with less salt? A lot of this comes down to voluntary adherence: While the FDA can recommend that restaurants and food brands cut back on salt, and that consumers take in less salt when cooking, will people listen? We will have to see.

No one wants to stop enjoying the foods they love, but maybe this can be a lesson in making more mindful choices whenever possible. Reading labels and tasting before adding salt to the food you are cooking or eating could be small changes that make a large impact in the future.