The Food and Drug Administration is holding its first ever hearing on sodium regulation today in the nation’s capital. This is mainly an informational session, but that shouldn’t downplay the significance of the occasion. Sodium has long enjoyed GRAS status, but this first-ever hearing could remove the Generally Recognized As Safe designation.
For the medical community and watchdog groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, this hearing is a big victory. For years they’ve decried overconsumption of the popular flavor agent and have prodded the agency to take action. Numerous studies have subsequently backed them up. The CSPI has been particularly persistent, appealing to the FDA regularly over the past three decades, and going so far as to sue them twice — in 1983 and 2005. Armed with evidence and overwhelming support from the scientific community, CSPI and others want the FDA to reclassify sodium and limit the amount food retailers and restaurants can use. They’d also like the agency to require warning labels detailing the health hazards of consuming too much salt.
Studies show there’s an urgent need for regulation. The average American currently consumes around 4,000mg of sodium per day. That’s bad news, considering the recommended daily amount is almost half that. According to the American Medical Association, cutting the amount of salt companies now use by half could save 150,000 lives each year.
So will the FDA take action? If change happens, it’ll come slowly. That’s because sodium is entrenched in our food system, to the extent that we’re not even aware of its presence. Just reading the amounts found in most processed foods like frozen meals is enough to make you thirsty. Even seemingly healthy items like Caesar salads can hold as much as 1,500mg. Please pass the water.