Sodium reduction remains a priority

by Jeff Gelski and Keith Nunes
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Sodium reduction remains a top-of-mind issue for the food and beverage industry. A recent survey of food manufacturers conducted by the United Kingdom-based Leatherhead Food Research revealed it is one of the top issues food companies are trying to address.

In the survey, the researchers asked food and beverage industry executives to respond to the comment “Commercialization of emerging technology is the only way of achieving a step change in ...” A little more than 40% said either productivity or efficiency while about 40% said either reduction of fat or reduction of salt. Sustainability was over 35%. Health and wellness was nearly 25%.

“These groupings suggest that it is generally believed that ‘green’ agendas will not be met by the current manufacturing platforms and that reductions in salt and fat that are possible by existing strategies are at their maximum,” Leatherhead Food Research said.

There is an urgency to achieve greater sodium reduction levels in products because research continues to emerge regarding the impact excess sodium in the diet may have on individual health and wellness. For example, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and published Sept. 17 in the research journal Pediatrics showed a correlation between sodium intake and systolic blood pressure and risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure among overweight or obese U.S. children.

Digging into the data

Researchers from the C.D.C. estimated average daily sodium intake of 3,387 mg in the 6,235 U.S. children of the ages 8-18 who participated in NHANES 2003-08. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends 2,300 mg of sodium or less per day for adults.

For every 1,000 mg of increased sodium intake per day, the risk for high blood pressure among overweight and obese children rose 74%. Among normal weight children, the increase was 6%, which was not a strong association, said Elena Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist with the C.D.C. who was involved in the study. Among all children, for every 1,000 mg of increased sodium intake per day, the risk for high blood pressure increased 35%, she said.

The study divided the children into four groups. The first quartile averaged 2,316 mg of sodium intake per day while the second quartile averaged 3,014 mg, the third quartile averaged 3,642 mg and the fourth quartile averaged 4,589 mg. Dr. Kuklina said children in the fourth quartile were twice as likely to have elevated or high blood pressure.

Mean adjusted systolic blood pressure increased progressively with the sodium intake quartile. Sodium intake and weight status appeared to have synergistic effects on risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure.

Dr. Kuklina said the study had two major limitations. First, it was based on dietary recall, or children being asked to remember what they ate in the past 24 hours, which is not as accurate as urine sample tests. Second, Dr. Kuklina said the study was a cross-sectional one in that it measured predictor (sodium intake) and outcome (blood pressure) at the same time. There was no follow-up with the children involved.

Morton Satin, vice-president, science and research for the Salt Institute, Alexandria, Va., said he found flaws in the study.

“This paper seems to represent the gradual shift of C.D.C.’s focus away from using hard science to clarify the human response to challenges to a form of advocacy-science in order to support a pre-determined agenda,” Dr. Satin said.

In addition to the limitations of basing the study on dietary recall, Dr. Satin said he found no indication of the sodium content of the diets. If some of the children ate a bigger overall diet, they probably consumed more sodium.

“It is not that there is a higher level of sodium in the diet, it’s just more diet altogether — more food,” he said.

The American Heart Association said the study shows the need for a limit to the amount of salt in foods consumed by young people.

“It’s very disturbing that this nation’s children and teens consume too much salt in their diets at school and home,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. “High blood pressure, once viewed as an adult illness, is now affecting more young people because of high sodium diets and increasing obesity.

“While new nutrition standards for school meals are helping, progress is slow. This study strongly underscores the need to move faster because our kids are on an early path to heart attacks and strokes.”

Reduction efforts continue

In early October, Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, announced a partnership with Chromocell Corp. to identify compounds with the potential to be used as taste-giving ingredients in a range of foods. The collaborative project is intended to help advance Nestle’s nutrition, health and wellness agenda by enabling the company to further enhance the nutritional profile of its products.

Based in North Brunswick, N.J., Chromocell is a life sciences company. The two companies plan to use Chromocell’s proprietary “Chromovert” technology to screen ingredients to find those that provide similar or equally pleasing tastes to salt.

Nestle, which is investing $15 million in the collaboration, said the new ingredients may help it reduce the amount of salt used in its products while preserving the tastes consumers are used to.

“Our collaboration with Chromocell is about finding ways to recreate the tastes consumers expect from culinary dishes, but with reduced salt,” said Sean Westcott, research and development manager for Nestle’s Food Strategic Business Unit. “We are ultimately aiming to offer consumers more low-salt options for making tasty and pleasurable everyday meals for themselves and their families.”

Nestle claims to be the first company in the food industry to introduce comprehensive policies for the systematic reduction of specific nutrients considered detrimental to health when consumed in excess. Mr. Westcott said the company has a “long and successful history of making tasty and nutritionally balanced foods.”

The collaboration with Chromocell is expected to last at least three years. For its part, Chromocell identifies and develops new food and beverage ingredients, as well as ingredients for therapeutic purposes. To discover the ingredients, Chromocell uses naturally occurring systems that mimic human biology.
In late September, Kraft Foods Inc. said it is on track to complete a three-year project to reduce sodium by an average of 10% across its North American portfolio by the end of 2012.

“Sodium plays several important roles in food, including enhancing taste and texture as well as helping keep products fresh,” said Russ Moroz, vice-president of research, development and quality. “But our scientists and product developers also know more than half of North Americans are interested in lowering their sodium intake. So we worked hard to make meaningful reductions in sodium without sacrificing the taste, quality or safety of some of North America’s favorite foods.”

Among other products, Kraft Original BBQ Sauce has been updated with a 40% sodium reduction, Kraft Easy Mac Cups Original and Triple Cheese now have 30% less sodium, Teddy Grahams Honey Graham snacks now have 25% less sodium, Oscar Mayer Deli-Fresh Smoked Ham and Oscar Mayer Beef Bologna also have 25% less sodium, and Kraft Singles American Slices have 18% less sodium than they did previously.

In total, Kraft has reduced sodium in more than 1,000 stock-keeping units in 24 different product categories. The company offers more than 100 products with either low, reduced or no sodium, including Oscar Mayer Lower Sodium Bacon; Planters Lightly Salted Nuts; and Hint of Salt crackers, including Triscuits, Ritz and Wheat Thins.

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