Report at a Glance
Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States
Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sodium in their food, far exceeding public health recommendations. Consuming too much sodium is a concern for all individuals, as it increases the risk for high blood pressure, a serious health condition that is avoidable and can lead to a variety of diseases. Analysts estimate that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually.
While numerous stakeholders have initiated voluntary efforts to reduce sodium consumption in the United States during the past 40 years, they have not succeeded. Challenges arise because salt—the primary source of sodium in the diet—and other sodium-containing compounds often are used to enhance the flavor of foods, and high amounts are found in processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants. Sodium also is added to enhance texture or to serve as a preservative or thickener. In fact, very little of the sodium in foods is naturally occurring; most of it is added as it is being processed or prepared by the food industry. The actual sodium levels in food may surprise consumers, especially if the food does not taste salty.
In 2008, Congress asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend strategies for reducing sodium intake to levels recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—currently no more than 2,300 mg per day for persons 2 or more years of age. This amounts to about 1 teaspoon of salt per day, while the average American consumes about 50 percent more than that—more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day. The IOM committee that authored this report concludes that a new, coordinated approach is needed to reduce sodium content in food, requiring new government standards for the acceptable level of sodium. Manufacturers and restaurants/foodservice operators need to meet these standards so that all sources in the food supply are involved and so that the consumer’s taste preferences can be changed over time to the lower amounts of salt in food. The goal is to slowly, over time, reduce the sodium content of the food supply in a way that goes unnoticed by most consumers as individuals’ taste sensors adjust to the lower levels of sodium.