Eating too much salt is making Americans sick. Even a 12% reduction can save lives

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Restaurant food and packaged foods are often high in salt to make them more palatable. The FDA wants to see the food industry gradually reduce sodium levels in these foods.

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The Salt
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Sodium content in packaged foods varies a great deal by brand, with a slice of frozen cheese pizza, for example, ranging between 370 mg and 730 mg of sodium. Even the foods we would use to make a pizza at home, such as canned tomato sauce and pepperoni, can have high sodium levels, which consumers may not be aware of, Woodcock notes.

Woodcock said in her statement Wednesday that some food companies have already been reducing sodium in their foods, since a draft version of this week’s targets was released in 2016.

The sodium reduction targets are voluntary, but Woodcock says other countries have had success with a similar approach. For instance the UK salt reduction initiative led to a 15% reduction in the average salt intake of the population, and Woodcock says the UK has seen a reduction in average blood pressure and the sodium reduction is also linked to lower rates of strokes and heart attacks.

«We can’t claim that all of that is totally caused by the reduction in sodium in the diet, but we’re sure that that was a contributor,» Woodcock says.

And most recently, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine from China points to similar benefits. When groups of people in Chinese villages substituted potassium chloride for table salt, «they saw significant reductions in heart attacks and strokes,» says Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association.

Overall it’s clear that cutting salt intake benefits health, says Lloyd-Jones. «This is solid science. If we can remove sodium from the processed foods in our food supply, consumers won’t even notice, but they’ll reap the health benefits,» he told NPR in an interview.

The ways in which too much sodium can harm the body are well understood. Too much sodium leads the body to retain water, which is pulled into the blood vessels. This can increase the volume of blood. «It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it,» according to the American Heart Association’s explainer.

And, over time, this leads to disease. «The kidneys get stressed, the blood vessels get stressed, the heart gets stressed,» says Mozaffarian.

Sodium plays a key role as a preservative and taste enhancer in packaged food, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. And «sodium reduction is complex,» the industry group says, but food companies are already working to reduce sodium «by offering a variety of products to meet consumer demands – lower sodium, reduced sodium, lightly salted, and no salt options,» according to a release, and plan to to continue to work with the FDA on its sodium reduction targets.

  • packaged food
  • sodium
  • hypertension
  • FDA
  • heart disease

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