Regulatory Update: FDA Releases New Sodium Guidelines

Regulatory Update: FDA Releases New Sodium Guidelines

November 10, 2021
Annette Maggi

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily sodium intake of no more than 2,300 mg for individuals aged 14 and older, this is significantly lower than the average current intake of 3,400 mg. To try and move the consumer towards healthier sodium intake levels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new guidelines for sodium last month. Here’s what retail dietitians need to know about the new guidelines.

Goals, Not Regulation

Essentially, the FDA is asking food companies and partners along the supply chain to voluntarily adopt new guidelines for the levels of sodium in foods. This is an important distinction between this guidance and actual regulations, with which companies would be required to comply. In this policy document, FDA indicates that as more than 70% of Americans’ sodium intake comes from processed foods, food manufacturers must be involved in lowering population sodium consumption to more moderate levels. The agency is asking companies to voluntarily comply with the suggest sodium reductions and limits.

  • Retail RD Relevance:  The sodium targets have implications for retail owned brands. Present a summary of the new guidance to owned brand leadership, showcasing alignment with shopper insights and your healthy living programs, highlighting this as an opportunity to show thought leadership in the H&W space, setting target levels and timing for sodium reduction, and addressing the shopper communication strategy.

Targets Defined for Specific Food Categories

The FDA has defined short-term (2-3 year) sodium reduction targets, ranging from 20 to several hundred milligrams per serving depending on the food category and whether the product is an individual item, meal, or main dish. These targets are defined for food categories that contribute the most sodium to consumers’ eating habits and include:

  • Cheese, margarine, butter, and salad dressings
  • Frozen and shelf-stable vegetables
  • Nuts, seeds, and their butters
  • Broths and soups; sauces and marinades
  • Cereals, breads, muffins, tortillas, crackers, cake, doughnuts, cookies, pastries
  • Processed meat and seafood
  • Chips and snacks
  • Frozen appetizers and meals

Retail RD Relevance:  Partner with owned brands teams on an assessment of these categories, including how your products’ sodium levels compare to competitive products. Establish a process for quarterly reviews of competitive products to track sodium reductions. It’s important to note that given consumers’ perception that sodium reductions impact flavor, it’s unlikely that companies will publicly discuss or label new sodium levels.

Gradual Sodium Reductions

It will take time for consumers’ palates to adjust to lower sodium intakes, and for this reason, FDA acknowledges that product reformulations to reduce saltiness should progress gradually and using food technologies available today with a goal of moving the average American towards 3,000 mg sodium per day.

  • Retail RD Relevance:  As sodium is likely to be highlighted by health organizations for the foreseeable future, establish programs to work with shoppers and clients on ways they can gradually lower their sodium intake and cravings.

Click here to access the full policy on Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals: Target Mean and Upper Bound Concentrations for Sodium in Commercially Processed, Packaged, and Prepared Foods.