In FDA regulations, Nutrient content claims, Nutrition facts labels
More and more food manufacturers are making their products low sodium to satisfy the desires of the American public.

More and more food manufacturers are making their products low sodium to satisfy the desires of the American public. Image credit: Flickr user Leonid Mamchenkov.

First-time food manufacturers often ask me what the most popular Nutrient Content Claims (NCCs) are for food products. Well, in addition to a few others—such as low fat and low calorie—low sodium is one of the NCCs food manufacturers most frequently use. Actually, any NCC related to reduced sodium is commonly employed by food manufacturers since lower sodium foods are popular among the general American public.

According to the American Heart Association, 75% of consumers want less salt in processed and packaged foods. Plus, 77% of the salt the average American consumes comes from processed and restaurant foods, and total salt consumption averages 3,400 mg per day—over 1000 mg more than the FDA recommends. With these statistics, it makes sense that consumers want more reduced sodium foods available for the sake of their health.

So what does it actually mean for a product to be low sodium? What about reduced sodium? No salt added? Food manufacturers looking to make statements about sodium levels must know the differences between each of these NCCs and the guidelines to follow in order to use these claims on their nutrition labels. So, let’s take a look at the FDA rules for low sodium nutrition labels, the sodium intake guidelines for consumers, and some ideas for reducing sodium levels in your food.

Creating a Low Sodium Nutrition Label

The guidelines for using a low sodium nutrient content claim are fairly straightforward, but it is important that you are familiar with the Recommended Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) outlined by the FDA for your particular product. You’ll need this to determine whether or not your product is low sodium or not. Keep in mind that RACC and serving size aren’t necessarily the same, as RACCs are simply general guidelines used to determine serving size.

Once you find the RACC for your food product in the FDA’s table, you can use online nutritional analysis software to analyze the sodium levels for this RACC. If it qualifies for the low sodium NCC, it will fit within the following guidelines:

Low Sodium: A maximum of 140 mg of sodium per RACC is considered low sodium. If the RACC is very small (i.e. less than 50 grams), sodium levels should measure 140 mg or less per 50-gram serving.

Low sodium isn’t the only nutrient content claim that draws attention to altered sodium levels. Below are other common NCCs for sodium and their respective guidelines:

Sodium Free/Salt-Free/No Sodium: A maximum of 5 mg per RACC and per labeled serving is considered free of sodium. Sodium chloride must not be an ingredient; the small amount of sodium naturally occurs in other ingredients.

Reduced Sodium/Less Sodium: A minimum of 25% less sodium than a suitable reference food (i.e. a similar food product with regular sodium levels). For main meals, 25% less sodium per 100 grams as compared to a reference food is considered acceptable.

No Salt Added/Unsalted: If your product isn’t sodium free but you haven’t added salt to it during manufacturing, you must declare somewhere on your product, “This is Not a Sodium Free Food.” This claim must appear on the information panel of your package or next to the “No Salt Added/Unsalted” claim. For instance, unsalted seaweed snacks are naturally high in sodium, despite having no extra salt added.

Lightly Salted: If the product does not qualify for the low sodium NCC, this phrase may be used if the food contains at least 50% less salt than would normally be added to an appropriate reference food. An example of a “lightly salted” product is potato chips that contain 50% less salt than is added to regular potato chips but that still contain over 140 mg of sodium per RACC.

FDA Sodium Recommendations For Consumers

As a food manufacturer, it is important to be aware of the FDA’s recommendations regarding the particular NCC you are using. This way, you can truly understand why consumers want to watch their intake of a particular nutrient and what the current research says.

According to the FDA, a high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Considering that 56% of American adults have hypertension or pre-hypertension, as do 10% of American children, it stands to reason that sodium intake will be a concern for many consumers. Processed and packaged foods are notorious for containing high levels of sodium, so consumers are warned to consult the nutrition facts panel of a product before purchasing.

The FDA recommends consuming no more than 2.400 mg of salt per day and suggests consumers check the Percent Daily Value (%DV) for guidance. Anything over 20% of the daily value is considered high in sodium. Knowing this, you can be mindful that the sodium levels on your product stay below 20% if your target audience might be concerned about their sodium intake.

Ways to Reduce Sodium in Your Food Products

Since sodium is a key nutrient the American public has been informed to be aware of, using reduced sodium NCCs can grab the attention of consumers and attract them to your product.

Some effective ways to reduce sodium in your food products without sacrificing flavor include:

  • Substitute potassium chloride salt
  • Add lemon or lime juice
  • Increase the amounts of other spices (cumin, pepper, paprika)
  • Add fresh or dried herbs (basil, thyme, oregano)
  • Use vinegar as a seasoning

While these ideas are good place to start, if you are committed to reducing sodium levels in your food product, it is important to create a comprehensive sodium reduction plan that includes setting sodium goals and targets, assessing different sodium-reduction methods, and evaluating the results. This way, you can ensure your reduced salt product is the very best possible.

Navigating the world of NCCs can be challenging, especially when it comes to knowing if your product qualifies for specific claims such as low sodium. That’s why I recommend using an online nutritional analysis software that evaluates your product and instantly provides you with a list of all the NCCs it qualifies for. Then, you can pick and choose which claims to use based on your target audience—without the hassle of doing all the calculations yourself. Whether it’s low fat, low calorie, low sodium, or all three, you can rest assured that your NCCs adhere to the FDA guidelines and represent your product truthfully and accurately.

LabelCalc can generate your nutrition facts panel and instantly show if your product qualifies for any Nutrient Content Claims. To learn more about our FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software, contact us today.

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