The purchase and consumption of food has become a subject that invokes passion, questions our most basic rights and offers solutions that are highly dependent on which side of the argument you reside.
Battles include the removal or downsizing of so-called junk foods, the questionable nutritional content of school meals and an over-willingness to try to legislate away the growing obesity epidemic. And so far, there’s no clear consensus about how to effectively deal with any of these issues.
SCHOOL NUTRITION — FOOD FIGHT.
Schools provide breakfast and/or lunch to 31 million students each day. That number not only presents an opportunity for food manufacturers but also represents a growing concern that the foods making up the majority of a child’s daily intake are not as nutritious and beneficial as they should be.
Changing nutritional guidelines, influence by lobbyists and a growing consumer desire for clean labels has created a new set of issues for parents, schools and the manufacturers supplying schools. Because school nutritional guidelines differ state to state, county to county and district to district, many companies producing products for schools follow the guidelines endorsed by larger manufacturers and/or school districts central to their distribution areas.
Starting a Revolution
With little consensus among government and schools, the issue of the healthfulness of school nutrition is increasingly co-opted by concerned citizens and small-scale food manufacturers such as Revolution Foods. The company delivers healthy meals and nutrition education to schools and programs across the country.
Recently, the most visible proponent for healthy school lunches may be British chef and nutrition advocate Jamie Oliver. The movement for healthier school lunches has struck a chord among everyday consumers and celebrities alike, with a common goal of getting fresh foods back into schools. Mr. Oliver's Food Revolution nationwide petition has garnered close to 600,000 signatures so far.
Mr. Oliver’s Food Revolution dovetails with First Lady Michelle Obama’s recent Let’s Move campaign. Mrs. Obama’s initiative supports the goal of solving the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. On March 16, Mrs. Obama delivered a keynote address at the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association’s (GMA) Science Forum.
The GMA announced its support of the Let’s Move initiative with a commitment to work with communities, school districts and government agencies to get nutritious foods into school. In June, the Grains for Health Foundation gathered 200 experts from government, industry, academia and health organizations in Minneapolis, MN, to discuss the future of grains in the school food supply. The foundation is working for a gradual modification of the grain food supply chain involved in school meals to assist in the fight against child obesity.
In 2009, whole-wheat pancakes and whole-wheat tortillas were added to the permanent list of reimbursable school meal commodity foods list as a part of the Grain Purchase Program (GPP) initiated by ABA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. Schools in 41 states and Puerto Rico used GPP funds to purchase whole-wheat pancakes for breakfast and whole-wheat tortillas for lunch during the second half of the school year (February – September).
If the “Food Revolution” and Let’s Move campaigns accomplish nothing more than to stir up the American public, food manufacturers would find benefit in considering the key talking points and resulting implications.
SALT — SINNER OR SAINT.
It’s a battle that has raged for three decades and one that appears to be far from over. Rumblings about the reduction of sodium levels picked up in October with an announcement from the American Medical Association (AMA) that reducing the nation’s collective sodium consumption could lower medical treatment costs by $18 billion each year.
In defense of its announcement, AMA quoted a RAND Corp. study that said by meeting the current national sodium guidelines of no more than 2,300 mg a day, 11 million cases of hypertension would be eliminated, extending the lives of thousands each year. According to RAND, Santa Monica, CA, adults typically consume 3,400 mg of sodium per day.
Several months later in January, the New York City Health Department launched its National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI). The NSRI, headed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, is coordinating a national effort to prevent heart attacks and strokes by reducing the amount of salt in CPGs and restaurant foods, reducing American’s sodium consumption by 25% during the next five years. The public-private partnership has developed targets for sodium reduction in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food. There are voluntary 2- and 4-year targets in each food category.
Not to be outdone, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) further pushed the debate about sodium by again requesting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoke salt’s Generally Recognized As safe (GRAS) status and regulate it as a food additive instead.
In April, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended strategies for reducing sodium intake to levels stated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in response to a 2008 Congressional request. IOM concluded that reducing the sodium content in food will require new government standards for an acceptable level of sodium. Following the announcement, FDA offered a statement proposing review of the IOM recommendations, suggesting continued work with federal agencies, public health and consumer groups and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply.
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) also came out in support of IOM’s efforts to reduce sodium in foods, but the organization called for further research into the health impacts of broad-based reduction programs.
Rather than participate in another round of wait-and-see, many companies have taken matters concerning sodium reduction into their own hands. Campbell’s Soup Co., Sara Lee, ConAgra and General Mills are a few of those who have chosen to set their own standards regarding sodium reduction. Sara Lee committed to reducing salt an average of 20% over the next five years across its key categories of fresh bread, hot dogs, lunchmeat, breakfast foods and cooked sausage. General Mills also announced a goal of decresing sodium by 20% across multiple product categories by 2015.
According to the Snack Food Association (SFA), the sodium content of many salty snacks already falls in line with the reductions proposed by NSRI. Lisa Katic, RD, SFA health policy adviser, said that salty snacks actually do not add a great deal of sodium to the average diet — perhaps 2 to 4%. Ms. Katic also pointed out that to improve the American diet with respect to hypertension is not simply to reduce sodium consumption but to increase potassium intake, which is an important part of the equation.
In March, PepsiCo., Purchase, NY, announced it would cut sodium in its product line by 25% within five years, excepting Lay’s Classic. The company is developing a new salt that dissolves more quickly in the mouth. The new salt features a different size and crystal structure, so people don't have to eat as much to get the same effect, according to Mehmood Khan, MD, the company’s chief scientific officer. In early May, the company announced that six flavors of Lay’s reduced-sodium chips, which launched in January, are selling 30% ahead of projections.
Science is also responsible for significant reductions of sodium levels in baked foods during the past three decades. USDA data confirms that the average sodium in a slice of bread dropped from 254 mg to 180 mg since 1963. The American Bakers Association recently came out in support of incremental reduction of sodium.
Salt plays a critical role in the production of bread, contributing greatly to product quality, taste and texture. Drastically reducing sodium in a short time frame would likely discourage consumption of whole grain and enriched grain foods that include key nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, folic acid and fiber.
Saying vs. Doing
The latest National Eating Trends report from The NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, found that amidst the concern regarding sodium content the actual consumption of low-sodium and sodium-free foods has declined.
“In my 30 years of observing Americans’ eating behaviors, there is often a gap between what consumers say and what they do,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group. “It’s easier to aspire to a positive behavior than to actually do it.”
Search www.bakingbusiness.com for additional resources on sodium reduction methods.