WASHINGTON — On April 1 the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest brought together industry leaders, health professions and government officials for a one-day meeting to discuss progress and challenges in sodium reduction.
The meeting was held in Washington and called “Getting to 2,300: A progress report and opportunities for further progress” and was a follow-up to a 2007 conference that looked at ways to help consumers lower sodium consumption to 2,300 mg per day.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the C.S.P.I., said it was a good information-sharing meeting. Although no sweeping recommendations or goals were outlined, Mr. Jacobson said many food companies shared their company goals. Companies also discussed challenges and frustrations they face in sodium reduction.
“Neither public health officials nor many food industry executives are satisfied with the status quo,” Mr. Jacobson said. “It is encouraging that some of the major manufacturers and restaurants are taking the problem seriously, sponsoring research and actually lowering sodium levels in products.”
Mr. Jacobson said everyone at the meeting emphasized it’s a huge effort as every type of food and dish has to be dealt with separately, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. They also emphasized salt is not just for flavor, but there are food safety and texture issues as well. Finding flavor maskers to add to potassium chloride was one effort in technology that was discussed.
“Food and beverage manufacturers are committed to providing consumers with the product choices they need to achieve their optimal sodium intake levels,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the G.M.A. “For years, food companies have been introducing new products into the marketplace containing lower sodium or with no added salt. And although progress is being made, reducing sodium in products without affecting the taste or consumer acceptance of products is no easy task. Consumer acceptance of sodium-reduced food products is an important factor that must always be taken into consideration.”
Mr. Jacobson said he believes the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture need to set sodium limits for different categories of food so there is a level playing field and more pressure is put on companies who are not currently reducing sodium. This would ensure consumers will not just switch to buying products from companies with high sodium levels. Yet he acknowledged actually getting these limits set by regulatory agencies will be quite difficult.
“Restaurants have made significant progress in developing lower sodium menu options for patrons,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the N.R.A. “The food and restaurant industries’ proactive and ongoing efforts will better enable the gradual reduction of sodium in the food supply, which will ultimately drive us towards the goal of reducing sodium consumption by consumers.”
Joy Dubost, director of nutrition with the N.R.A., said there are two approaches to sodium reduction: technology approaches and behavioral approaches. The technological approaches involve salt replacers and enhancers, but she also said public education about sodium with gradual reduction is necessary to help increase demand for lower sodium products and for consumers to understand the importance of watching sodium levels.
Though much progress has been made, challenges still remain in sodium reduction.
“You can take sodium to a certain point in reducing it, but then from that point on it’s very difficult,” Ms. Dubost said. “That’s because sodium has so many touch points in the food supply … it’s a very complex system to try to start to maneuver.”