01.Salt cuts for food
American food companies could soon face government pressure to make their foods less salty in an attempt to help prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to issue voluntary guidelines asking the food industry to lower salt levels, according to its commissioner, Margaret Hamburg. “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 in a recent interview with The Associated Press. She hopes the guidelines will be issued "relatively soon".
Michael Jacobson of advocacy group Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) expressed concern about the effectiveness of voluntary guidelines as companies may hesitate and wait for competitors to reduce sodium in their products. If that happens "then FDA should start a process of mandatory limits", he argues.
Americans eat around 3400mg sodium a day, about a third more than the 2300mg their government currently recommends as the daily limit - enough to raise blood pressure which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Over 75% of sodium in their diet comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods.
In Australia, the contribution to total sodium in our diets from processed foods is similar. The Food and Health Dialogue, a collaboration between government, public health groups and industry, was launched in 2009 to improve nutritional content of food and incorporated a voluntary reformulation program across a range of commonly consumed foods. Objectives include the encouragement of higher fibre and wholegrain content in food, and limits to salt, sugar and fat content. However an assessment of the program, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in February, found that only 11 out of a possible 124 specific food targets had been set (eight of these for salt), and none had been fully achieved.
Like the US, 2300mg is the recommended upper limit for daily sodium intake for Australians, with a suggested dietary target for chronic disease prevention of 1600mg per day.