Sodium reduction a “challenging” task, KHNI flags, amid calls for industry action
22 Jun 2022 --- The Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (KHNI) is highlighting the health priority of governments to reduce sodium intake across the globe to battle the main cause of high blood pressure, leading to strokes and heart diseases – standing for the highest mortality rates globally.
Consumers have an increased health awareness, driving the demand for healthier products. The World Health Organization (WHO) also advises governments on initiatives to follow. However, industry engagement is required to make a significant difference in the process.
“Sodium reduction can be very challenging. There is no silver bullet, not one solution that can be applied across various products and applications. Saltiness is perceived by the ion channel that responds to sodium. This sodium channel is particular. Therefore it’s unlikely any substance could fully replace sodium,” comments the KHNI.
“In addition to salty taste, salt is a highly functional ingredient, so there’s a need for a combination of solutions to address sodium reduction. Salt is an efficient, clean label preservative. It binds water and inhibits microbial growth. This water-binding capability also lends to a more succulent product.”
Sodium in common foods
Processed food stands for the highest sodium intake, and take-away food or food consumed outside the home. Globally, a significant amount of sodium comes from bread, processed meats, dairy products and other foods.
The WHO advises a daily salt intake of maximum 5 g of salt (2 g of sodium). However, the global average daily consumption is between 9-12 g of salt, data from the WHO shows.
Heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of death. Both are worsened by high blood pressure, which is often caused by a high sodium intake. In the UK, a voluntary salt reduction was implemented in the early 2000s, resulting in 9000 lives saved.
In South Africa, a mandatory salt reduction scheme was implemented resulting in a significant decrease in salt intake over a five year period.
What is being done?
Countries around the globe are tackling the sodium threat in different ways. Tax implementation and voluntary reduction initiatives are common approaches.
For increased taxes, the aim is to make the products not necessary for public health more expensive. Mexico is one example of an 8% tax on high-calorie “non-essential” foods.
Thailand took a similar approach, with plans to introduce a tax on salty products. However, it got put on hold as the economy needed time to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. The department of health in the Philippines proposed a higher tax as well. However, lawmakers rejected that due to a lack of interest.
Salt reduction has been referred to as a critical public health strategy in the UK. Organizations are pushing for additional salt taxes, which were rejected recently as the government does not wish to raise food prices during ongoing inflation.
Front-pack labeling has also been introduced, including warning labels on the front of product packaging to ensure consumers are informed. Latin American countries are the “leaders” in this approach. The labels indicate if the products contain high levels of salt, sugar, fat or energy.
Industry needs to step in
For industry, continuous innovation is ongoing in the area. Common methods used are stealth reduction, mineral salts – such as replacing sodium with potassium chloride – and yeast extracts, according to the KHNI.
Another standard method is “salt crystal shape alternation.” This approach’s primary effect is to dissolve salt crystals in the mouth.
“This involves altering the size and shape of the salt crystals to create a saltier perception during taste. A smaller salt crystal size increases adhesion capabilities, and hydrophobicity is the main attribute linked to increasing the perception of saltiness,” KHNI notes.
Even though industry and governments across the globe have shown progress in sodium reduction, the KHNI stresses that “there is still some way to go.” The sodium intake levels are still way too high compared to the recommendations from the WHO, and blood pressure-related diseases still run as the most elevated mortality factors in the world.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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