Urban consumers underestimate salt intake

by Laurie Gorton, Baking & Snack
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About half of consumers living in the world’s urban areas believe they eat less than 5 g salt per day, according to a consumer survey published by DSM Food Specialties, a global life sciences company with US offices at South Bend, IN, and Parsippany, NJ.

Highest figures came from the US, with 61% of participants believing they consume 10 g or more salt per day — twice the recommended amount. Nigerian consumers reported the lowest figures, with 65% believing they consumed less than 5 g per day.

DSM reported these results July 14 at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and Food Expo held in Chicago. The survey involved 5,000 participants aged 18 to 45 years in the “new markets” of Brazil, China, Nigeria and Poland as well as those in the “established market” of the US.

Studies of actual salt intake around the world show that people are likely to consume as much as three times the recommended daily amount. A 2012 report released by the European Commission revealed that men and women in Europe generally consume anywhere from 6 to 18 g salt daily.

Salt is 39% sodium by weight. Although other food components contain sodium, it has become customary to view sodium intake in terms of salt equivalents.

Target levels for salt — and sodium — intake cited by scientific authorities differ, from a low of 1,500 mg sodium (4 g salt) per day supported by the American Heart Association to the UK’s National Health Service setting an upper limit of 6 g salt (2,300 g sodium). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans offered by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food and Drug Administration recommended limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day or 1,500 mg for individuals who are 51 or older, or African American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

This consumer perception research is part of the first of series of global insight reports planned by DSM Food Specialties, a part of Royal DSM based at Delft, The Netherlands.

“The survey results confirm that we cannot assume that consumers can make accurate judgments about the amount of salt in foods they consume,” said Dennis Rijnders, business manager, savory ingredients yeast extracts, at DSM Food Specialties. “Taste, convenience and price are more likely to be given as reasons to purchase foods again.

“Coupling great taste with health benefits such as reduced sodium is the best way forward in driving repeat purchases,” Mr. Rijnders explained. “The savory ingredients industry can help make this possible with benefits to consumers, food producers and society at large.”

During Salt Awareness Week in March, DSM introduced its salt reduction toolbox of natural yeast extracts and process flavors. The company said these ingredients support a reduction in sodium of up to 50% without loss of taste or mouthfeel.

Some progress in reducing the sodium levels in processed foods has been made. DSM called attention to research presented at the American Society of Nutrition Experimental Biology Conference in April at Boston that indicated that, despite manufacturers’ best efforts, Americans’ sodium intake increased by 63 mg per day every two years from 2001 to 2010. This amounted to a 7.9% increase during that time.

Only half (51%) of those in the 2013 DSM survey believed the recommended daily intake (RDI) for salt is 5 g or less, which is what the World Health Organization recommends. (This equates to 2,000 mg sodium.) Results show that one-in-four (26%) believe the RDI for salt is more than 10 g, with 3% believing it to be 100 g.

The DSM perception survey also revealed that 80% of people said they would be willing to lose some of the flavor in foods that the typically prepare and eat if they knew that it would improve their health. Those living in China were the most willing to make this change; Americans were least willing.

Still, taste, convenience and price were all more likely to drive purchases than was the healthiness of the food, according to the DSM survey.
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