March 28, 2023 – The FDA wants to start allowing salt substitutes to be used in staple foods like cheese, milk, and bread.
Currently, the FDA does not allow salt substitutes in what the agency calls “standardized foods” and wants to create flexibility for makers of 140 everyday foods, including frozen peas, canned vegetables, milk chocolate, and ketchup.
The announcement is part of the FDA’s plan to help reduce what it calls “diet-related diseases.” High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. The most common way people eat too much salt is through eating packaged foods or food prepared at restaurants, according to the CDC.
“Manufacturers of standardized foods have few options for reducing the sodium content of their products,” the formal proposal states. “If salt is a required ingredient, they may generally use less salt. If salt is an optional ingredient, they may either use no salt or less salt. However, they cannot replace salt with another ingredient unless the standard permits the use of another ingredient.”
Specific salt substitutes the FDA would allow weren’t listed, but the agency defines them as “safe and suitable ingredients used to replace some or all of the added sodium chloride” that would “serve the functions of salt in food,” the news release said. “The extent to which salt can be replaced depends on the ability of a salt substitute to replace the functions of salt in food without compromising food safety and the characteristics of the food.”
In 2021, the FDA asked the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels in packaged and restaurant-prepared foods. The FDA said the new proposal is intended to help the industry meet that request.
Usually, salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which warns that people who have certain health conditions need to be mindful about consuming them.
“Salt substitutes can be a healthy alternative for some people because potassium is an important mineral that helps lower blood pressure,” Cleveland Clinic dietitian Maxine Smith explained in an edition of the clinic’s newsletter. “But salt substitutes can be dangerous when you have conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease or diabetes.”
The CDC notes that both sodium and potassium are important electrolytes that help the body maintain healthy fluid and blood levels. The balance is important: Too little potassium or too much sodium can increase blood pressure. The CDC recommends reading food nutrition labels to manage your intake of sodium and potassium.