WASHINGTON D.C.: On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established new guidelines to help cut salt levels contained in food by an average of 12%, in a bid to counter the growing epidemic of preventable health issues plaguing the U.S.
The FDA is encouraging food manufacturers, chain restaurants and food service operators to voluntarily lower the sodium content of their products, focusing mainly on processed and take-out food.
The agency wants to cut sodium intake from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams per day, on average, over the next two and half years, though salt intake would still remain above the Dietary Guidelines for Americans' recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day for people aged over 14.
The decision is likely to affect the packaged food industry and major companies, such as Pepsi, Kraft Heinz and Campbell Soup, as well as fast-food chains, such as McDonald's.
However, the FDA must still take stronger action, health experts stressed.
In a statement, the American Heart Association said, "The FDA's target is an important step forward, but lowering sodium intake to 3,000 mg per day is not enough."
High salt consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, which affects 40 percent of Americans and is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Lowering salt intake can prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses, the FDA said, adding that it plans to regularly issue revised guidelines for lower sodium content.
"We are going to monitor this as we go along," said Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of FDA, during a media call.
The majority of sodium that is consumed in the United States comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods, and not from table salt added to food when cooking or eating, the FDA stressed.
The Food Marketing Institute, a trade group representing the food industry, said it supports the FDA's decision and will review the guidelines before getting feedback from its members.
Researchers predict that limiting salt intake will result in tens of thousands fewer cases of heart disease and strokes annually, as well as billions of dollars in healthcare savings, the FDA noted.