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New FDA guidelines crack down on salt

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It's 'about putting power back in the hands of consumers'

FDA headquarters (Flickr) Flickr

The US Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines today for the food industry to reduce the amount of salt used in processed foods. The goal is to reduce Americans' high intake of sodium, which has been linked to several health problems like high blood pressure.

Americans consume 50 percent more sodium than most experts recommend

The guidelines — which have been in the works since 2011 — are voluntary, but put pressure on food manufacturers, restaurants, and other food services to reduce sodium. Americans consume 50 percent more sodium than most experts recommend, according to the FDA. And most of the intake comes from processed foods and meals eaten at restaurants.

"Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants," Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. "Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health."

Americans consume on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day. The new guidelines aim at reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day or less, which the FDA says is a level that's recommended by leading experts. Diets high in sodium have been linked to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke — two of the leading causes of death in the US. Reducing salt intake by about 40 percent over the next 10 years could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in health care costs, the FDA says.

"Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers."

"The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels," Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement. "Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths."

Today's announcement comes almost two weeks after the FDA announced a new overhaul of the nutrition facts labels on food products, which are also aimed at improving health information provided on food packaging. The new labels require manufacturers to include "added sugars," the amount of sugar included during food processing.