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Even in the midst of the pandemic, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the country. And much of it is preventable through healthier diets.
The United States Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released new sodium targets aimed at prompting food companies to reduce the amount of salt in processed and prepared foods. The reductions aim to reduce Americans’ sodium intake by about 12% over the next two and a half years.
This is a gradual step, as the agency hopes to see even greater reductions in the years to come, but reducing sodium intake, even at this point, could have big public health benefits, the commissioner said. Acting FDA Janet Woodcock.
“Too much sodium makes people sick. It leads to high blood pressure, which causes both heart disease, stroke and even kidney damage, and it’s preventable,” Woodcock told NPR in a report. interview.
She says the agency is working to push the food industry to change because it is unrealistic to expect massive behavioral change in the population and people have no control over sodium levels in packaged foods. She notes that even toddlers and children consume too much sodium in the United States. “People can’t do it alone because it’s in the food they buy,” she says.
Every day, about 1,800 people die from heart disease in the United States. And, unlike a virus that can kill quickly, deaths from heart disease are linked to decades of unhealthy eating habits.
Currently, Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg per day, far exceeding the latest US government dietary recommendations of up to 2300 mg per day of sodium, or about a teaspoon of salt.
If Americans reduced their intake to the recommended level, it could prevent about 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and save about $ 40 billion in health care costs over 20 years, according to a statement from the American Heart Association.
The proposed 12% reduction is a big step in the right direction, says Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. But he would like to see more action to reduce consumption to the recommended 2,300 mg per day. “The FDA really needs to act, and very soon, for the longer term goals of reducing sodium until it’s safe for the American public,” he said.
Over 70% of the sodium Americans consume comes from packaged and prepared foods, rather than our household salt shakers, and there are some surprising contributors. Take a sandwich: Each slice of bread can contain 200 mg or more, depending on the brand you buy. Add some deli turkey, it’s easy to add extra 650mg. (See a breakdown of a typical turkey sandwich here.)
The sodium content of packaged foods varies a lot between brands, with a slice of frozen cheese pizza, for example, ranging from 370 mg to 730 mg of sodium. Even the foods we would use to make pizza at home, like canned tomato sauce and pepperoni, can have high sodium levels, which consumers may not be aware of, Woodcock notes.
Woodcock said in his statement Wednesday that some food companies have already reduced sodium in their foods, since posting a draft of this week’s targets in 2016.
The sodium reduction targets are voluntary, but Woodcock says other countries have succeeded with a similar approach. For example, the UK salt reduction initiative resulted in a 15% reduction in the average salt intake of the population, and Woodcock claims that the UK has seen a reduction in mean blood pressure and the reduction in sodium is also linked to lower rates of strokes and heart attacks. .
“We can’t claim that all of this is caused entirely by the reduction of sodium in the diet, but we’re sure it helped,” says Woodcock.
And more recently, a study published in China’s New England Journal of Medicine points to similar benefits. When groups of people in Chinese villages replaced table salt with potassium chloride, “they saw a significant reduction in heart attacks and strokes,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the ‘American Heart Association.
Overall, it’s clear that reducing salt intake has health benefits, says Lloyd-Jones. “It’s solid science. If we can eliminate sodium from processed foods in our food supply, consumers won’t even notice it, but they will 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 causes the body to retain water, which is drawn into the blood vessels. It can increase the volume of blood. “It’s like increasing the water supply to a garden hose – the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blown through it,” according to the American Heart Association’s explicator.
And, over time, it leads to illness. “The kidneys are stressed, the blood vessels are stressed, the heart is stressed,” Mozaffarian explains.
Sodium plays a key role as a preservative and flavor enhancer in packaged foods, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. And “sodium reduction is complex,” the industry group says, but food companies are already striving to reduce sodium “by offering a variety of products to meet consumer demands – from low-sodium options, to. reduced sodium, lightly salty and no salt, “according to a release and plans to continue working with the FDA on its sodium reduction goals.