FDA Proposes Allowing Salt Substitutes in Processed Foods

The proposed rule would allow manufacturers to replace regular salt with salt substitutes in foods like cheese, canned tuna, and chocolate to reduce the sodium content.

Although the body needs some sodium to function properly, consuming too much salt has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nine out of 10 people in the United States consume too much salt, and more than 70% of that excess sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant fare.

The WHO estimates that global salt-reduction policies could save 7 million lives worldwide by 2030. To help combat excess salt consumption in the U.S., the FDA set new voluntary guidelines in 2021 for food manufacturers, food service operators, and chain restaurants to reduce salt levels by around 12% in packaged and take-out food.

On March 24, the FDA announced a proposed rule designed to help manufacturers meet the 2021 guidelines by allowing the use of safe and suitable salt substitutes in common packaged foods like cheese, frozen peas, chocolate, margarine, and mayonnaise.

If finalized, this proposed rule will change the standards of identity (SOI) for over 20 food items. SOIs define the ingredients that specific foods must contain and those that are optional. Generally, foods with SOIs are considered standardized foods.

The FDA says the new rule would allow the food industry to reduce sodium content in standardized foods in the same manner as non-standardized foods.

"Today’s action is another step forward in our efforts to improve nutrition and reduce chronic disease by providing manufacturers another tool to lower the use of sodium in food production. This approach may help reduce Americans’ sodium intake and lower their risk of hypertension, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke," says FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D.

However, the proposed rule does not list the specific salt substitutes that manufacturers can use in their products. Still, these compounds must follow the same FDA labeling requirements as other food ingredients.

What are salt substitutes?

Salt substitutes are products that contain potassium chloride or other minerals and have less sodium than regular table salt. They are also called "reduced sodium salt" or "low salt substitutes." Some research suggests salt substitutes may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

However, because of their potential to increase potassium levels in the blood, salt substitutes might not be suitable for people with kidney conditions or those taking specific medications.

In addition, it’s unclear if salt substitutes are safe for pregnant individuals or children.

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