Meat plate
Potassium-based curing salts may assist with lowering the sodium content of bacon, charcuterie and fermented sausages.

Government intervention

On June 1, 2016, F.D.A. proposed voluntary sodium reduction goals for all food products. They are based on data showing the average sodium intake in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams per day. The draft short-term (two-year) and long-term (10-year) voluntary targets for industry are intended to help the American public gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, a level recommended by leading experts and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence. The targets take into consideration the many functions of sodium in food, including taste, texture, microbial safety and stability.

“Consumers are concerned more than ever about sodium content in their foods but refuse to compromise on taste, and, of course, they also demand a clean label,” said Revital Ben Shachar, global marketing director of Salt of the Earth Ltd., based in Atlit, Israel. “It is easy to reduce 10 to 15% of sodium without critically affecting flavor — a growing number of food companies already do this voluntarily — but F.D.A. recommends reducing sodium by 30%, a difficult goal that presents challenges to manufacturers.”

Ms. McDonald said, “Some may see F.D.A.’s new voluntary guideline as a barrier, but there is definitely an opportunity to ease consumers into a healthier diet without them noticing. By taking a stealthy approach, slowly reducing sodium levels in products over two to 10 years, consumers are less likely to recognize the formulation difference.”

That slow reduction may be communicated quietly on the Nutrition Facts label. Indeed, most food marketers opt to make ingredient adjustments without flagging total sodium reduction in order to prevent any preconceived notions that the food will taste inferior. In order to identify these lower-sodium foods, consumers often need to compare Nutrition Facts labels. And they are, with sodium on their radar.

Research shows that two in three shoppers (66%) agree that food choices are an important factor affecting their health, according to results presented in the 2016 Shopping for Health Report, compiled by The Food Marketing Institute and Rodale. The study was based on an on-line survey of 1,404 Americans, which took place mid-November 2015. Almost the same number (62%) view the food they eat as medicine for the body and, as such, try to buy a mix of foods that will offer different health benefits.

An impressive 67% of shoppers generally read food labels to see what is in the foods they buy, with more than half (53%) saying that the salt/sodium content of foods concerns them. As ingredients of concern, salt/sodium is second on the list, right behind sugar/artificial sweeteners at 55%. Interestingly, one-third of consumers surveyed say they are buying more foods that are lower in sodium, as compared to the previous year.