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Voluntary sodium reduction: easier said than done? This may not be the case.

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist, MenuMax

Voluntary sodium reduction has been front and center in the news over the past few months.  As the debate continues to unfold, we have moved beyond whether or not sodium reduction is a good idea to the practical consideration of how to do it.

Because food manufacturers and foodservice establishments have the primary influence on how much sodium is consumed by an unassuming public (e.g. they’re the ones putting the sodium in the public’s food,) the ball inevitably falls in their court.

Let’s remember sodium makes its regular appearance in processed foods, manufactured by food companies and used by foodservice establishments.  It can also be excessively present in menus at restaurants where the use of salt is not accounted for.  Let’s take a look at the food manufacturers first.

The good news is the concept of sodium reduction is not new one.  According to Katharine Jenner, a spokesperson for World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), an international salt-reduction advocacy group, “Food companies will continue to say they can’t reduce the salt in their products and will emphasize the technical obstacles to reducing salt, but the truth is they can do it quite easily and have done it in the UK and other countries.  There turned out to be very, very few technical reasons why salt couldn’t be reduced [in the UK], outside some specific product categories like cheese.”

Interestingly, such international manufacturers as Kellogg’s, Nestle, and KFC already manufacture products with a wide variety of sodium in them.  Kellogg’s All Bran, for example, contains 2.15 g of salt per 100 g in Canada, but only 0.65 g of salt per 100 g just over the border in the United States, less than a third of the Canadian level (www.worldactiononsalt.com/media/international_products_survey_2009.xls).

The truth is the United States is not the first country on the block to voluntarily attempt to reduce sodium in food.  It has been done before by other countries such as Finland and Japan, successful lowering the mortality rates associated with stroke and heart disease and leading to longer life expectancies.

The key lies in incremental changes.  Small changes lead to slow adjustments in the public’s taste buds, better health, and eventual buy-in from all.  But unless the entire industry gets on board with a clear understanding of what is at stake, we will continue to unknowingly ingest ubiquitous amounts of salt and lead the rest of the world in heart disease and stroke.

I will discuss the use of sodium by the foodservice industry in the following posts, so tune in to learn more about salt, flavor and some useful tricks to use in the kitchen.

Question: What is the biggest challenge you face when you try to cut down on sodium in your recipes?


[1] He FJ, MacGregor GA. A comprehensive review on salt and health and current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes. J Hum Hypertens. 2009;23:363-84. [PMID: 19110538]

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