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 tradit
ionally 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 theMediterranean 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?

Satiation: The Right Way to Control Portions

For years, Hyde Park Group has held a passionate viewpoint about portion control through satiation – that when food is seasoned well with herbs, spices or natural sweeteners, people are prone to eat less. One of our goals as innovators is to develop delicious foods that satisfy the palate while curbing the appetite for over consumption.

We are pleased to report on the continuing body of research that supports our point-of-view: that when food is well seasoned, people may unconsciously cut down on how much they normally eat.

A recent study, released by Alan Hirsch, MD, and presented at the 2008 Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting, found that flavoring food with calorie-free seasonings and sweeteners, scientifically know as tastants, may result in people feeling full faster and reducing their calorie intake in the long run.

The more than 2,400 obese or overweight people who participated in this study were asked to use a variety of seasonings and sweeteners in their food during a six-month period of time.

The “salty” ingredients included Parmesan, cheddar cheese, horseradish, onion or ranch dressing flavors. According to our chef innovators, these choices make sense since many provide “umami”, or a heightening of flavors in otherwise bland foods. Sweeteners included a variety of banana, cocoa, strawberry, spearmint, raspberry and malt flavors.

The study also included around 100 participants who did not use any seasonings in their food. Researchers evaluated body mass index (BMI) before and after the six-month period. Both group participants were allowed to diet if they were doing it before participation in the research study.

Results showed that using tastants may help people reduce their body weight. People who used tastants had an average weight loss of around 30 pounds while the control group (the ones who did not use tastants) only lost an average of 2 pounds. BMI decreased an average of 5 units for the participants who used tastants while only 0.3 for those participants who did not use the seasonings and sweeteners.

We know that tastants work on two levels. One is that they make you feel fuller faster, so you don’t eat as much. The other is that, by adding flavor and spice to otherwise healthy but bland foods, they become more palatable. For example, tofu or asparagus, when seasoned correctly, tastes well-rounded and delicious.

But spices and seasonings are certainly not the only way to build satiety into food. According to
Mintel, many food manufacturers have embraced the satiety trend by formulating new products with combinations of fiber and protein, fiber on its own, branded ingredients such as Fabuless, and traditional ingredients like Konjac Mannan which has been used in traditional Japanese foods for hundreds of years. All help create a feeling of fullness and cut down on hunger pangs between meals.

Hyde Park Group has worked extensively in many categories to apply natural satiety to products sold around the world. From our research in Istanbul to the street markets of New York, we have become firm believers that controlling appetite with natural ingredients is one of the keys to healthier eating.

Dollar Store Food: Any Nutritional Bang for the Buck?

With more consumers shopping for bargains and preparing food at home to save money, is the next frontier for healthy food the unpretentious dollar store?

Since the economic downturn,
dollar store sales are thriving as a wider variety of consumers discover the extreme economy of these often overlooked retail venues. But what kind of food products can you really buy at a dollar store, and how healthy are they? Recently, Hyde Park Group Food Innovation developed a line of healthy new food concepts intended for dollar stores.

As we researched this growing retail venue, we were energized by the prospect of providing healthier foods to all people, not just the elite few who can afford organic or local produce, or any fresh produce at all for that matter. In fact, the traditional customer who shops at dollar stores – the lower income, rural female – is among the most in need of healthier food options. But what about seniors, urban teens, and the recession-squeezed middle and upper income segments? All are attracted to the smaller sizes and price points offered by dollar stores.

We conducted our own stores checks among, admittedly, a small sample size, to see for ourselves. Given that our conclusions are qualitative in nature, here’s what we noticed going on in the food aisles:

Where are the fruits and vegetables? Dollar stores carry a large array of general merchandise with food accounting for only a portion of total store sales. With such a relatively small amount of space dedicated to food, it is likely that the slow movement of fresh produce does not justify carrying it in many stores. (We know that some dollar stores carry fresh dairy and produce, but we did not see any in the stores we visited.) What about frozen or canned produce? We were unable to find many lower sodium, no added sugar, or all natural fruit or vegetable options in the shelf-stable aisles. At larger stores that offered frozen foods, we saw mostly prepared frozen meals and entrees: burgers, burritos, hot dogs, etc. – many with high sodium, fat and calorie counts – but no frozen vegetables or fruits.

Some of the healthy eating basics are there. When I challenged my chef innovators to pick out a sample of relatively healthier products from the dollar store, here’s what they picked: dried rice, pinto beans, canned turkey, semolina pasta, canned tomatoes and olive oil. As five star chefs, they understands that great-tasting food doesn’t have to be loaded with fat, sugar and salt. They like to start with the basics – grains and beans that have supported entire civilizations throughout the generations, healthy oils and lean proteins – and build from there.

Healthier branded products are making inroads. While many dollar stores still carry off-brand labels, we noticed that healthier, branded options are creeping into the aisles. We were particularly delighted by Star-Kist’s Lunch To-Go, a clever kit containing a pouch of chunk light tuna, crackers, and individual packets of relish and reduced calorie mayonnaise. At 240 calories and eighteen grams of protein per serving, it is truly a great bang for the buck and a healthy, on-the-go option for the quick trip dollar store shopper.

The dollar store’s time has come. Dollar stores have caught the attention of many branded marketers who are starting to develop products specifically for these venues. We recommend that they view this as a terrific opportunity to help make healthier foods available to a larger array of customers, even those who may have been previously overlooked.

So just imagine: new, healthy-eating dollar stores! Even if they all can’t carry fresh produce just yet, picture low-salt soups, sauces and canned vegetables; canned fruits in natural juices; frozen fruits and vegetables; more varieties of dried beans, rice, and whole grain pastas; frozen and packaged snacks and meals designed with convenience, nutrition and dietary needs in mind.

Sound farfetched? It shouldn’t. With an eye toward the budget-minded individual, healthy eating can and should be re-invented for the dollar store customer.