William Fisher

In 1969, the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health encouraged the food industry to reduce the amount of sodium in the food supply. Since then, food scientists and technologists have been actively pursuing innovative strategies to create new and reformulated lower sodium products. Last month in Food Technology, for example, an article discussed novel strategies for reducing sodium, focusing on advancements in using salt replacers, salt enhancers, along with flavor and aroma technology.

This column summarizes some of the scientific perspective and practical insights that IFT submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) during their recent call for comments on Approaches to Reducing Sodium Consumption [Docket Nos. FDA-2011-N-0400 and FSIS-2011-0114].

As part of its Million Hearts initiative focused on reducing the number of heart attacks and strokes, the federal government is seeking information on innovative ways to reduce sodium in the food supply, which was identified in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2010 report on “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States” as one of the most promising strategies to reduce the risk of hypertension—a leading risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

The IOM report documented how the average daily intake of sodium in the U.S. “substantially” exceeds the levels recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The average intake is more than 3,400 mg/day and the maximum intake level recommended by the 2005 and 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is 2,300 mg/day for the general population of two or more years of age. The recommended sodium intake is 1,500 mg/day for at-risk subgroups—individuals with hypertension, African American adults, and middle-aged or older adults. Close to 70% of adults in the U.S. are considered at-risk.

The IOM Committee acknowledged the food industry’s efforts over the past three decades to reduce sodium in the food supply, but felt voluntary sodium reduction initiatives have been inadequate to address the growing public health concerns related to hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

To inform the federal government’s decisions on new or modified approaches to reducing sodium consumption, IFT’s comments emphasized how food scientists and technologists have learned to account for sodium’s multi-faceted functions in foods while making significant reductions in sodium in a variety of food categories. IFT also explained that food scientists and technologists have learned that this research and development process demands time, thought, and financial commitments.

Despite the importance placed on making significant sodium reductions in our food supply, IFT called attention to the fact that public funding for investigating food science and technological approaches to sodium reduction is limited. With adequate public funding, sodium reduction initiatives could more effectively respond to national calls to reduce the sodium content in retail packaged foods and foodservice cuisine. In addition, IFT expressed how food scientists and technologists must be supported to pursue comprehensive ways of improving nutrient dense foods and beverages at affordable prices. A permanent public funding structure was also suggested as the best way to support the creation and maintenance of a national database to track real-time, gradual sodium reformulations. Thus far, no single approach provides an adequate understanding of sodium intake in the U.S.

Through experience, food scientists have developed the evidence and expertise on successful and unsuccessful sodium reduction initiatives. IFT reminded FDA and FSIS to call on food scientists and technologists to develop a process to regularly build consensus on best practices, along with feasible and safe sodium reduction targets. These collaborative, science-driven discussions should draw from lessons learned from low-fat reformulations and strive to avoid any potential unintended consequences of single nutrient strategies. Similar collaborative approaches could potentially help create meaningful and sustainable consumer education and outreach with the greatest likelihood for impacting consumer awareness and behavior relative to sodium consumption.

IFT will continue to provide scientific perspectives and practical insights on sodium reduction through publications, presentations, and by working with FDA on a session at the 2012 IFT Annual Meeting® in June. Join the dialogue in June and check out IFT’s comments and other sodium reduction resources at http://www.ift.org/public-policy-and-regulations/advocacy/positions-and-comments/2012/comments-on-reducing-sodium-consumption.aspx


Sheila Fleischhacker , Ph.D., J.D., Manager, Food, Health & Nutrition ([email protected]) and William Fisher , Vice President of Science & Policy Initiatives ([email protected] ), IFT, Washington, DC 20036.