Sodium reduction remains a top-of-mind issue for the food industry, according to a recent survey of food manufacturers conducted by the United Kingdom-based Leatherhead Food Research.

In the survey, researchers asked food and beverage industry executives to respond to the comment “Commercialization of emerging technology is the only way of achieving a step change in ...” A little more than 40 percent said either productivity or efficiency while about 40 percent said reduction of fat or reduction of salt. Sustainability was over 35 percent, health and wellness nearly 25 percent.

There is an urgency to achieve greater sodium reduction levels in products because research continues to emerge regarding the impact excess sodium in the diet may have on individual health and wellness.

For example, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, showed a correlation between sodium intake and systolic blood pressure and risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure among overweight or obese US children.

Digging into the data

Researchers from the CDC estimated average daily sodium intake of 3,387 mg in the 6,235 US children of the ages 8-18 who participated in NHANES 2003-08. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends 2,300 mg of sodium or less per day for adults. For every 1,000 mg of increased sodium intake per day, the risk for high blood pressure among overweight and obese children rose 74 percent. Among normal-weight children, the increase was 6 percent, which was not a strong association, said Elena Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist with the CDC who was involved in the study. Among all children, for every 1,000 mg of increased sodium intake per day, the risk for high blood pressure increased 35 percent, she said.

The study divided the children into four groups. The first quartile averaged 2,316 mg of sodium intake per day while the second quartile averaged 3,014 mg, the third quartile averaged 3,642 mg and the fourth quartile averaged 4,589 mg. Kuklina said children in the fourth quartile were twice as likely to have elevated or high blood pressure. Mean adjusted systolic blood pressure increased progressively with the sodium intake quartile. Sodium intake and weight status appeared to have synergistic effects on risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure.

Kuklina said the study had two major limitations. First, it was based on dietary recall, or children being asked to remember what they ate in the past 24 hours, which is not as accurate as urine sample tests. Second, Kuklina said the study was a cross-sectional one in that it measured predictor (sodium intake) and outcome (blood pressure) at the same time. There was no follow-up with the children involved.

Morton Satin, vice president of science and research for the Salt Institute, Alexandria, Va., said he found flaws in the study.

“This paper seems to represent the gradual shift of CDC’s focus away from using hard science to clarify the human response to challenges to a form of advocacy-science in order to support a pre-determined agenda,” Satin said. In addition to the limitations of basing the study on dietary recall, Satin said he found no indication of the sodium content of the diets. If some of the children ate a bigger overall diet, they probably consumed more sodium.

The American Heart Association said the study shows the need for a limit to the amount of salt in foods consumed by young people.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association said, “High blood pressure, once viewed as an adult illness, is now affecting more young people because of high-sodium diets and increasing obesity.

“While new nutrition standards for school meals are helping, progress is slow.

This study strongly underscores the need to move faster because our kids are on an early path to heart attacks and strokes.”

Reduction continues

In early October, Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, announced a partnership with Chromocell Corp. to identify compounds with the potential to be used as taste-giving ingredients in a range of foods. The joint project is intended to help advance Nestle’s nutrition, health and wellness agenda by enabling Nestle to further enhance the nutritional profile of its products.

Based in North Brunswick, NJ, Chromocell is a life-sciences company. The two companies plan to use Chromocell’s proprietary “Chromovert” technology to screen ingredients to find those that provide similar or equally pleasing tastes to salt.

Nestle, which is investing $15 million in the collaboration, said the ingredients may help it reduce the amount of salt used in its products while preserving the tastes consumers are used to.

Nestle claims to be the first company in the food industry to introduce comprehensive policies for the systematic reduction of specific nutrients considered detrimental to health when consumed in excess.

In late September, Kraft Foods Inc. said it is on track to complete a three-year project to reduce sodium by an average of 10 percent across its North American portfolio by the end of 2012.

“We worked hard to make meaningful reductions in sodium without sacrificing the taste, quality or safety of some of North America’s favorite foods,” said Russ Moroz, vice president of research, development and quality.

Among other products, Kraft Original BBQ Sauce has been updated with a 40 percent sodium reduction and Oscar Mayer Deli-Fresh Smoked Ham and Oscar Mayer Beef Bologna also have 25 percent less sodium.

In total, Kraft has reduced sodium in more than 1,000 stock-keeping units in 24 different product categories. The company offers more than 100 products with either low, reduced or no sodium, including meat products, such as Oscar Mayer Lower Sodium Bacon.

Jeff Gelski and Keith Nunes are contributing editors from Food Business News, a sister publication of Meat&Poultry.