FDA  lowers voluntary sodium guidelines, but not to recommended levels

The US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it will be lowering its targets for sodium content in processed, packaged, and prepared foods.

The US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it will be lowering its targets for sodium content in processed, packaged, and prepared foods, but not to levels recommended for cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The guidance issued by the FDA concerns voluntary targets for foods produced by food manufacturers, restaurants, and food service operators.

"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," acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition director Susan Mayne said in a statement.

"Although the average intake would still be above the Dietary Guidelines for Americans' recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day for those 14 and older, we know that even these modest reductions—made slowly over the next few years—will substantially decrease diet-related diseases, make for a healthier population overall and lower the burden of health care costs in this country."

The American Heart Association also recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day, but recommends an "ideal limit" of 1,500 mg per day.

In 2016, the FDA released draft guidance suggesting a limit of 2,300 mg a day. The agency said it was working with the food industry. "In the future, we plan to issue revised, subsequent targets to lower the sodium content incrementally to further help reduce sodium intake," the FDA said.

"Because the average American eats so much excess sodium, even cutting back by 1,000 milligrams a day can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health," the Heart Association says on its webpage addressing sodium. The Heart Association says consuming too much salt can raise blood pressure, which in turn causes heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Heart Association said the FDA's targets are an important step forward that will help people decrease their sodium intake, but not enough. It urged the FDA to take more action to lower the levels of sodium in the food supply.

"Lowering sodium levels in the food supply would reduce risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, heart attack and death in addition to saving billions of dollars in health-care costs over the next decade," it said. "Many members of the food and restaurant industry have begun to reduce sodium in their products. We strongly encourage the industry as a whole to adopt these targets and build upon existing efforts to reduce sodium in their products and meals.

According to the FDA, most people eat more sodium than recommended, and over 95% of children between two and 13 eat more sodium than recommended.

The new voluntary guidelines will address food manufacturers. Around 70% of the sodium people consume comes from pre-made or packaged foods, according to the FDA, "which makes it challenging to limit sodium," Woodcock and Mayne said.

"Hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from chronic disease related to poor nutrition, and by some estimates, the total economic costs range upwards to a trillion dollars per year," US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to ensure everyone has access to healthy and nutritious food. Improving the quality of food and nutrition is not only important to boost individual health outcomes -- it is an essential step towards tackling widespread health disparities," he said.

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CNN's Sandee LaMotte contributed to this story.