As the Institute of Medicine (IOM) considers a strategy to reduce salt in the American diet, the food industry is under pressure to cut products’ salt content. Campbell is the latest company to announce new low sodium products, in its soup line.
A body of evidence has linked excess salt (sodium chloride) in the diet to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed foods.
The average salt consumption of American adults is 10g per day according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This equates to 4000mg of sodium per day – double the recommended limit.
The news from Campbell is the latest indication that concern about salt consumption in the US diet is being heeded by some manufacturers. The top-selling soup maker has announced lower sea salt levels in its classic tomato soup, a further 15 per cent reduction in 25 Healthy Request soups to 410mg sodium (1.03g salt), and six V8 soups with reduced sodium.
For food firms, the challenge lies in delivering products that still meet consumers taste expectations and are safe (since salt is also used as a preservative).
A science policy paper published by the Grocery Manufacturers Association last month noted that there are more reduced-sodium products on the market, as manufacturers are on-board with the healthier eating drive.
However the paper, called “Sodium and Salt: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media”, highlighted steps being taken in the industry to change salt-taste preferences and said: “Some food processors are actively following step-down plans to gradually reduce the sodium contents of their products.”
Such reductions are over various lengths of time and “help reshape and reduce loyal consumers’ salt-taste preferences towards these foods”.
Although research into alternative ingredients and technologies has expanded in recent years and continues to grow in areas such as salt substitutes and taste enhancers, the GMA added that manufacturers are wary of alienating customers by altering flavor and texture profiles too quickly, as consumers are loyal and sensitive to changes in their favourite brands.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently hit out at food firms for the salt levels in their foods, as a survey showed that the average sodium content of 528 packaged and restaurant foods stayed essentially the same between 2005 and 2008.
It said the big brand-to-brand differences in numerous categories of foods indicated that some companies “could easily lower sodium levels and still have perfectly marketable products”, claimed the CSPI.
The CSPI petitioned the FDA in 2005 to change the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of salt. FDA held a hearing in September 2007.
The Institutes of Medicine convened an ad hoc consensus committee to review and make recommendations about ways to reduce Americans’ dietary sodium intake levels.
It is expected to publish a report in February 2010, but a series of open meetings are planned throughout this year.