Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Salt: the New Trans Fat?
Now that food companies and restaurant chains are rushing to remove trans fats from their products, a new report from the CDC shines the spotlight on salt – specifically, sodium in processed foods.
Is sodium poised to become the next trans fat? We think it is.
According to the CDC, adults in general shouldn’t consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. However, if you’re (1) over 40 (2) African American or (3) you have high blood pressure, you should only have 1,200 milligrams. That’s less than a teaspoon. And 69% of the adults in the U.S. fall into one of those three categories, which is more than 150 million people. And, salt control is not necessarily a low-income issue; a recent study from Mintel shows that salt-consumption is an equal opportunity concern across all income levels.
Currently, if your doctor tells you to reduce your sodium, it feels impossible. In our experience, we’ve learned a lot about people who are salt-restricted: for them, knowing what to eat is confusing, and, sometimes depressing.
Suddenly, foods they’ve eaten their entire lives are no-no’s, and many feel deprived, resigned to a life of bland meals. Many are who we affectionately refer to as "cooking-challenged,” relying on pre-packaged (and sodium-packed) ingredients to create meals, and feeling that they don't really have the know-how or the time to cook from scratch. Finally, a lot of people in this category mistakenly just cut out table salt, unaware that the fast-food Chinese they had for lunch has more than an entire day’s worth of sodium.
Creating foods that are delicious and have low sodium flies in the face of traditionally processed foods, which typically rely on the sodium-fat-sugar combination to taste good.
Nevertheless, many food manufacturers have successfully reduced sodium in their packaged foods, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sacrifice:
Cut some out, not all. The Center for Food Science in the Public Interest found that some brands had two to three times more sodium than others (they used French Fries, tuna and salad dressing as examples), with imperceptible differences in quality or taste. The conclusion: many foods taste just as good and keep their shelf life with less salt.
Spice it up. Experimenting with different flavor profiles can keep foods tasting delicious without depending on salt. Different vinegars and spices enhance preservation, mouth feel and flavor.
Man-made Ingredients. Food industry suppliers have created salt alternatives (Cargill’s SaltWise and DSM Food Specialties’ Maxarite, made from yeast), although they haven’t been broadly used. Another sea salt manufacturer claims to have a lower-sodium product, but most sea and kosher salts contain the same amount of sodium as regular salt.
Natural Alternatives. More in-line with the U.S. trend towards less-processed foods, using vinegars and spices (as mentioned above) is a good option. Olive oil, gaining favor as more people follow their own version of the “Mediterranean Diet,” is another natural preservative that has been used for thousands of years.
Although it’s still difficult for the average consumer to follow a low-sodium diet, it’s actually far easier than one might think for food manufacturers and even restaurants to reduce sodium. In fact, a growing number of foodservice operators are ahead of the trend by proactively reducing the sodium content of some menu items.
What is your company doing to reduce sodium?