Love Packaged Foods But Hate the Sodium? Read On

Study shows food manufacturers now using less salt
Love Packaged Foods But Hate the Sodium? Read On

When you eat too much salt, it can cause high blood pressure and lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. For most people, it’s not the salt you’re adding to your food from a salt shaker that gives you trouble — it’s the large amounts of sodium that we, often unknowingly, consume from processed and packaged foods. But a new study suggests manufacturers are making progress.

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The research team gathered and analyzed data from U.S. households in the 2000 to 2014 Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel, a population-based sample of 172,042 households that use barcode scanners to record all the packaged foods they purchase. Brand- and product-specific nutrition information was analyzed in nearly 1. 4 million products.

The study shows some processed and packaged foods contain less sodium today than they did nearly 15 years ago. Results showed that sodium content in packaged foods decreased by 12 percent, which the researchers called significant. The decreases began in 2005 and continued through 2014.

Other results:

  • A “significant but small” decline in beverage purchases, another hidden source of sodium.
  • The decreased amount of sodium overall amounted to 396 mg daily per person.

However, less than 2 percent of the surveyed households had packaged food and beverage purchases with sodium density of 1.1 mg/kcal or less, the researchers noted.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

Sodium content per calorie

There are a number of bright spots in the research, says registered dietitian Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD. She did not participate in the study.

“One of the things that was interesting over the 15 years of the study was that people are purchasing less condiments, sauces, dips and salty snacks resulting in an average of 100 milligrams less sodium per day,” she says.

Manufacturers are also moving in the right direction by using less sodium, but more can be done, Ms. Patton says.

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“One of the things that the study showed was overall sodium density in the foods. When they looked at the sodium content per calorie, the number was still fairly high, so there still is room for manufacturers to use less added sodium in the foods,” Ms. Patton says.

It’s also important to note that the research did not look at how much sodium households actually consumed; it only looked at sodium content of products purchased, she says.

Complete results for the study can be found online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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