The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning sodium reduction targets for food manufacturers, with the first of two public comment periods ending on October 17. CEI consumer policy expert Michelle Minton warns that sodium restrictions may put some Americans at risk.
The purpose of the Food and Drug Administration is to protect Americans from dangerous products, but when regulators try to protect us from our own choices, they can do more harm than good. The FDA’s proposal to set voluntary sodium limits may be a well-intentioned effort to reduce hypertension in America, but without knowing how consumers will respond, regulators cannot know if their guidelines will result in better overall health.
Research shows that people have an unconscious “sodium appetite” that drives us to consume a certain level of salt. This is bolstered by recent evidence indicating that Americans have consumed the same amount of sodium since the 1950s, despite increased levels of processed foods in our diet. Take sodium out of prepared foods and people may turn to the salt shaker or, worse, to salty snack foods, which could push obesity and hypertension rates higher.
Decades of evidence show moderate sodium restriction has no effect on blood pressure for most Americans; but it can cause harm for some, notably for diabetics. Moreover, other diet and lifestyle changes are far more effective at reducing risk of hypertension. For example, correcting the imbalance between sodium and potassium, in which most Americans are chronically deficient, is effective at reducing blood pressure, even in people with normal pressure. But due in part to a myopic focus on sodium, few Americans realize that reducing their risk of developing hypertension may be as simple as adding a few cups of spinach to their daily diet. Rather than leading the way in educating people about effective approaches to blood pressure management, the FDA has chosen to perpetuate the same government strategy that has failed to reduce hypertension for nearly forty years.
Hypertension is a serious problem that puts millions of Americans at risk, but the FDA’s proposal will do nothing to help and may even increase risk of harm. The question becomes, who will protect public health from the FDA?