A slight sodium reduction in all sandwich components, from the bread to the cheese to the meat to the spread, may help consumers reduce total sodium intake, which can have a positive effect on health and wellness.

KANSAS CITY — During the past decade, processors have been actively investigating ingredient technologies to reduce the amount of added sodium in meat and poultry products to assist consumers with reducing intake of this essential mineral, which when consumed in excess, may have negative health implications. This is challenging with many products as sodium is a component of numerous ingredients that provide functionality, flavor and even safety to meat and poultry.

Sodium is essential

The science supporting the relationship between sodium reduction and health is clear. When sodium intake increases, blood pressure increases, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the U.S.

Even though today’s consumers get more than their fair share of health and nutrition advice, studies show if a food is not tasty, they don’t eat it, regardless of how good it is for them. With most consumers, salty, one of the five basic tastes, is delicious. The problem with salty is it has been traditionally delivered through the addition of table salt, chemically known as sodium chloride.

Interestingly, the human body needs relatively large amounts of sodium to properly operate. Unlike consumers’ efforts to dramatically reduce carbohydrates, fats or sugars for various health and wellness regimes, one can go too low with sodium intake. Sodium is essential to nerve and muscle function, fluid balance and blood pressure. Without sodium, the body shuts down.

It is paramount that processors understand that the words “salt” and “sodium” do not mean the same thing, even though they are often used interchangeably. Sodium is one of the two chemical elements in salt. Both sodium and chloride are minerals and together do a great job of delivering delicious salty taste. But other minerals also provide a salty taste to foods. In fact, there’s an array of flavor-enhancing ingredients available to boost salty taste without adding sodium.

“For meat manufacturers, there are particular challenges when it comes to sodium reduction,” said Christiane Lippert, head of marketing-food, Lycored, Aylesford, United Kingdom. “Salt has traditionally played an important role in flavoring meat products, in addition to preservation and texture enhancement.”

Kara McDonald, vice-president of global marketing communications with the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Arlington, Va., said, “With encouragement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.), food manufacturers are looking to new ingredients that mimic the taste and functionality of salt.”