HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Food and Drug Administration released new guidelines Wednesday to help Americans reduce their sodium, and one Hattiesburg dietitian said that could be particularly beneficial for Mississippians.
"The FDA has written some voluntary guidance to help food manufacturers and restaurants, particularly large chain restaurants that are nationwide, to start to reduce the sodium gradually in their products," said Carol Connell, a nutrition professor at The University of Southern Mississippi.
According to the FDA, Americans eat about 3,500 mg of salt every day. That is about 50 percent more than the recommended teaspoon amount.
Connell said the FDA's focus on manufactured foods is important because most of the salt that Americans eat, they don't add to their food themselves.
"It's estimated that about 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from foods that we buy out of the home," she said. "Fast foods, restaurant foods, processed foods that we buy at the grocery store and then bring home, so most of our sodium is not what we add at the table. It's already in the food, and we have no control over that. We can't take that out once it's been put in there."
Sylvia Burwell, secretary for the United State Department of Human Services, said giving consumers control is the major reason the FDA wants to reduce sodium intake by 1,000 mg or about a half teaspoon.
"In terms of what we are doing is creating a situation where the consumer is in control," Burwell said. "If that consumer wants to add more sodium they are going to be able to do it. What the consumer can't do now is take it out of the product and have real knowledge about it."
Connell said being able to more closely monitor sodium intake means people will be able to better monitor their blood pressure, which is particularly important in Mississippi.
"We're one of the highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, particularly," Connell said. "That's the relationship to sodium. The more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure."
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, 700,000 Mississippians are living with high blood pressure or hypertension and thousands more may be at risk. Connell said the cuts to sodium in processed foods could have life-saving health benefits for Mississippians.
"The evidence shows that if we were to reduce the sodium intake to 2300 mg a day, we would reduce the incidents of cardiovascular disease by the estimates are in the tens of thousands of cases each year," she said.
The FDA set two goals in its guidelines. The first, to reduce sodium intake to 3,000 mg per day in the next two years, and second, to reduce intake to the recommended 2,300 mg in the next 10 years.
Connell also said reducing sodium intake could reduce healthcare costs.
"If they could get the sodium content down as far as they would like and people could make the transition and consume less sodium, I think we would see a lot of healthcare costs savings as well," she said. "I believe that saving in healthcare cost would be significant and something that would be beneficial to everybody."