Tiny salt, big challenge

In the land of salty snacks and comfort foods such as French fries and pizza, it is no secret that Americans love salt. But most of the salt that US consumers eat does not come from the salt grinder or shaker.

Sodium chloride, better known as table salt, plays a big role in the taste, safety and stability of many of the processed foods Americans enjoy. In fact, salt is a common ingredient that’s used to prepare commercially available food as well as being added to finished foods such as cooked meats, vegetables and snacks.

Most Americans don’t even realise they are consuming so much salt. Taste is one of the main drivers of food purchasing … and salt enhances flavour.

But, unfortunately, the relationship between American consumers and salt — albeit tasty — is not mutually beneficial. Although the human body may require a small amount of salt for electrolyte balance and other physiological processes, in many cases people ingest sodium at levels that can be deleterious to their health.

In America, average daily sodium consumption is around 3400 mg, whereas Federal guidelines, such as the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines, recommend less than 2300 mg for the general population. Those who consume higher amounts of sodium are at greater risk of high blood pressure, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

The American Heart Association estimates that reducing current sodium intakes by 1200 mg a day could prevent between 44,000 and 92,000 deaths per year and save between US$10 and $24 billion annually in healthcare costs.

All of the above essentially means that the majority of adults could benefit from sodium reduction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans get 71% of their daily sodium from processed and restaurant foods.

In a 2019 report on Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium, a committee from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded that: “For the desired public health benefit of reduced sodium intake to be achieved, more attention must be paid by industry to reducing sodium in the food supply and by consumers who have the needed sodium content information and an understanding of how to make health-inspired food choices.” The target of sodium reduction efforts has shifted from the consumer to the food industry.

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