REDUCE SODIUM. MAINTAIN TASTE.
The food industry is feeling the compounding pressures to reduce sodium in food products. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends sodium consumption at no more than 2,300 mg/day for healthy adults. Restrictions are already being applied to school lunch programs. Now health advocacy groups are urging the FDA to implement mandatory sodium reduction in packaged and processed foods.
It is in our interest as an industry to be proactive—reducing sodium strategically, without affecting food quality, mouth-feel, taste or consumer appeal. At Cargill, we are here to help you in this process. We have products, such as SaltWise® sodium reduction system and Premier™ Potassium Chloride, that will help you create delicious, lower-sodium, shelf-stable food.
Remember that salt is a highly functional ingredient. It helps in food preservation and shelf life. It provides the hindrance needed for yeast and in the fermentation processes. It helps with microbial management—the growth of beneficial microorganisms that can help flavor development while minimizing the growth of pathogens and spoilage organisms. And it’s one of the most effective flavor enhancers in existence.
Given all these benefits, sodium reduction should be undertaken carefully and according to these best practice guidelines:
ASSESS THE TARGET AUDIENCE: Some consumers are seeking a healthier, lower-sodium product; others associate low-sodium with lack of flavor. Depending upon the target audience, we might choose to be open, with labels that draw attention to the reduction in sodium, or “stealth”—developing foods that look and taste similar to reference foods by using salt substitutes such as potassium chloride.
AUDIT ALL SODIUM SOURCES: Accounting for sodium in processed foods involves more than just looking at salt. Sodium might come from salt, sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate or monosodium glutamate. All animal-derived food products (e.g., meat, milk) inherently contain sodium and some plant-derived foods, such as beets, carrots, celery and spinach, also contribute significant amounts of sodium.
SET REDUCTION TARGETS: Because sodium performs many functions, it’s important to look at everything that will be affected, including taste, quality, shelf-life, and consistency. Set sodium targets at the lowest level that will not adversely affect the food. You may also want to consider a step-wise reduction by reducing to desired sodium target in more than one step, with increasing levels each time. This will help consumers adapt more readily to the gradual change in flavor profile.
For manufacturers whose consumers will respond favorably to a lower-sodium message, potential nutrient content claims for sodium content of foods include:
- Sodium free: less than 5 mg of sodium per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC)
- Very low sodium: 35 mg or less of sodium per RACC
- Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per RACC
- Reduced sodium: sodium reduction of at least 25% per RACC compared to an appropriate reference food
- Unsalted or no salt added: no salt is added during processing and the food that it resembles and for which it substitutes is normally processed with salt
In order to make any of the above claims, a manufacturer must fully comply with the requirements set forth within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 101, Subpart D, Section 101.61 Nutrient content claims for the sodium content of foods, which are published on FDA’s website.
CONSIDER THE OPTIONS: There are many ways to reduce sodium, but only experimentation and rigorous taste testing will help determine which is the right one (or combination) for any particular food. They include:
- Reduce the amount of salt added to a product
- Change the proportion of salt to other ingredients, or modify the taste profile with other seasonings
- Replace some or all of the salt with a salt substitute, potassium chloride and/or an alternate flavor system
- Change non-salt sources of sodium to non-sodium ones, e.g. swap out sodium-based leavening for potassium-based ones
MODIFY AS NEEDED: It’s best to provide a long roll-out period during which lower-sodium products are tested in discrete markets and refined. Keep an eye on competitive offerings and claims and factor that into every decision. Evaluate success using everything from sales figures and consumer responses. One advantage to the “stealth” method of sodium reduction is the ability to make appropriate sodium level adjustments in your formula over a specific period of time without launching an entirely new advertising campaign each time.