JAMA study highlights need for more sodium reduction, consumer education about salt

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

98% of homes have packaged food exceeding sodium recommendations, JAMA

Related tags Sodium reduction Sodium chloride Sodium

New research showing that 98% of homes have packaged food that exceeds the recommended amount of sodium, despite drastic reductions in the last 15 years, should be a wake-up call for manufacturers to cut back on the mineral even more and for consumers to read labels more closely, according to a co-founder of salt replacement maker NuTek Food Science.

Tom Manuel, who is the CEO of NuTek Food Science as well as a co-founder, explained it is “great”​ that a study published this month in the JAMA​ found that sodium from packaged food and beverages purchases decreased significantly from 2000 to 2014 by 12% overall and at least 10% for seven of the 10 top food sources of sodium. 

But, he said, the “real tragedy”​ is the rates of children with hypertension and prehypertension – which sodium reduction could help lower – were significantly higher in 2013 than 10 years prior, showing that the food and beverage industry and society still have a long ways to go to reduce sodium enough to address the chronic illnesses to which excessive amounts of the ingredient contribute.

“In the US in 10 years ago, one in 20 kids had hypertension or prehypertension, but in 2013 one in six did, which is an amazing fact that you are affecting that many children,”​ he said.

He acknowledged, as the study based on Nielsen Homescan Consumer data from more than 172,000 US households showed, “we have made some progress and some areas are better than others.”

For example, the study found the sodium content in household purchases of condiments, sauces and dips is 14% lower now than 15 years ago, 12.6% less in mixed dishes, 17.3% less in salty snacks, 10.5% in bread, 18.4% in soup, 17.1% in vegetables and 16.5% in breakfast cereal.

But, Manuel said, “on average we still haven’t changed a lot and there is a lot more to do.”

Most of this work needs to be undertaken by packaged food manufacturers and by food service because the vast majority of sodium is not added to consumers’ diets in their homes.

“About 80% of sodium in the diet comes from packaged food and restaurant food, so that is really where, if you are going to make meaningful sodium reduction, you are going to have to drive awareness,”​ he said.

Salt for Life could be a solution

He suggested that one way to do this is by swapping NuTek's Salt for Life, which is based on potassium chloride, in a one to one ratio with up to 40-50% of sodium chloride in formulas.

“Potassium chloride has been in the food chain for about 50 years,”​ but its use has been held back in part by the bitter metallic flavor it can impart if used in too high of quantities, he said.

However, he noted his co-founding partner found a “unique solution”​ to minimize this side effect. In addition, he said, the potassium offers added benefits beyond replacing sodium.

“What governments are after and people are after is better cardiac health and reducing sodium certainly helps with the blood pressure, but increasing potassium is just as important. You can get a lot more potassium in your diet and it will really negate the sodium,”​ he said, adding, “I hate to see this focus only on sodium reduction because more and more medical literature coming out is talking about what you need to do is balance sodium and potassium,” ​with which Salt for Life can help.

From a manufacturing perspective, he adds, Salt for Life is a good option because swapping it for sodium chloride will not impact the functional benefits the original ingredient provides in the food.

Consumer education is a key component of NuTek’s approach

NuTek is not only working the sodium reduction problem from the manufacturing side, but also from the consumer side with a new “cheeky”​ education campaign, Manuel said.

The company launched a “Practice Safe Salt”​ campaign as a lighthearted way to raise awareness about sodium reduction among younger consumers. The campaign warns of the dangers of “flirting” ​with excess sodium and encourages viewers to “talk about salt.”

After quizzing people about their knowledge on sodium’s impact and how much salt is in favorite dishes, the campaign offers the advice: “Don’t salt and tell.”​ Rather, they should use NuTek's Salt for Life shakers, which are sold in more than 8,000 retail outlets, to reduce sodium without impacting the flavor. 

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