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IFT urges government to take a cautious approach to sodium reduction

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 02-Feb-2012

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has submitted comments to government agencies suggesting that actions to reduce sodium should not go “too far, too fast”, and has raised concerns about consumer acceptance and the safety of reduced sodium foods.

In comments provided to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), IFT said it supports sodium reduction efforts, but highlighted the technological challenges of creating lower sodium foods. Food scientists have found numerous ways to reduce sodium in a variety of products, but the ongoing challenge is to maintain microbiological safety, taste, flavor, texture, structural integrity, preservation, and nutrition, it said.

“Food scientists and technologists will continue to be instrumental in developing lower sodium products at levels just above where palatability falls off and outside of food safety danger zones,” the document said.

Consumer acceptance

IFT also highlighted the challenge of convincing consumers to buy lower sodium foods, citing research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), which indicated that 40% of those interviewed had no interest in buying low sodium foods – and most had no idea how much sodium they consumed on average per day.

Determining how much sodium the average American consumes is challenging in itself, as self-reported consumption data may underestimate intake, while there are limited data based on excreted sodium.

Based on self-reported data, the CDC suggests that average intake is around 3,400mg each day, while the USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300mg – and less than 1,500mg for people with hypertension, or those considered at risk of developing hypertension.

With about 80% of US dietary sodium thought to come from processed foods, food manufacturers have been under pressure to slash it from their products. However, consumers do not always accept reduced sodium versions – and companies like the Campbell Soup Company, for example, have reacted by putting the sodium back into their products, after years of gradual reduction.

Start young?

IFT said: “Sophisticated ways of targeting taste preference will be essential to establishing step-wise reductions with the most promise of being commercially viable and having any impact on consumer dietary sodium intake.

“Special attention should be given to early childhood, where establishing preferences for lower sodium products will probably be most effective in the short and long term.”

Among other suggestions, the organization said public funding should be made available to address questions about food stability and food safety associated with sodium chloride reduction.

IFT President Roger Clemens said that no public funds are currently available, despite the importance placed on food-based solutions to sodium reduction.

The FDA and FSIS invited IFT and other industry representatives to offer scientific perspectives and practical insights on reducing sodium consumption in the United States.

The IFT’s full comments are available online here .

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