In a recent study published in the journal Advances in NutritionResearchers in the United States explored the challenges and strategies facing the food service industry in reducing sodium content.
Most Americans consume significantly more sodium than healthy adults, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. About 55% of the food budget is spent on foods prepared and consumed away from home (FAFH). Restaurants, offices, college campuses, military bases, and senior centers are just some of the places where these meals are served. Attempts to reduce sodium levels in prepackaged and retail foods have faced many challenges. Despite these obstacles, several effective methods have been used to reduce the sodium content of FAFH.
Point of view: Challenges and strategies for reducing sodium content in foods by the foodservice industry. Image credit: Evan Lorne/Shutterstock
Challenges in reducing sodium in foods
A survey of nearly 6,122 adults in the United States found that while 52% of participants preferred low-sodium/salt menu choices when eating out, only 6% actually ordered them. Customers choose a restaurant most often for its delicious food, while only 29% choose a restaurant because of its authenticity. Because it has the opposite effect of increasing consumer demand, food service companies rarely promote “healthy” or “low-sodium” options. For this reason, companies often lower the level of sodium in their products without the consumer’s awareness. As a result, workers in the food service industry are under pressure to prepare and serve items that are lower in sodium.
Large food service operations may have difficulty finding low-sodium food to meet demand. Bread and baking products are such a popular food because people eat them with everything from burgers and chicken sandwiches to pizza and breakfast sandwiches, and they’re just as delicious when eaten on their own. Results from a number of studies show that lower sodium content can be achieved without significantly affecting consumer acceptance. Therefore, this possible modification would contribute significantly to lower sodium intake. Manufacturers may be persuaded to reduce sodium in bread products in response to such statements and requests from food service operators for such items.
Ways to reduce sodium content in meals
Substitution for alternatives
Foodservice companies can help reduce the amount of sodium in their customers’ meals by modifying and creating new dishes that incorporate flavor enhancers. Sodium replacement ingredient testing has been the subject of intense study. One strategy for developing a sodium substitute involves changing the crystal structure of the sodium molecule to produce a larger, coarser salt crystal.
Examples of taste enhancers are glutamate, herbs and spices, amino acids/peptides, and umami substances. The salt content in baking, sauces, seasonings, meats, savory snacks, and mixed dishes can potentially be reduced with the help of flavor enhancers.
Instruct kitchen staff on how to make low-sodium dishes
One tactic of creating low-sodium menus is to teach and educate the culinary staff that catering establishments use to prepare such dishes. Reducing salt in meals has been helped by collaborations between foodservice companies and culinary schools. Within four years of starting this partnership, a total of 12% of sodium has been removed from the lists of member companies in the United States. Salt reduction instructions for chefs have also been shown to be effective in countries outside the United States.
Promote and display low-sodium foods
Changing the built environment to make it easier to buy low-sodium foods by improving their availability, location, marketing, and promotion may boost sales. It was found that 48% of consumers replace snacks with meals at least three to four times per week, with health concerns playing a role in decision-making on 50% of those occasions. Small meals based on nutrient-dense, low-sodium snacks are a great option for many non-retail situations.
The results of the study show that reducing sodium and providing low-sodium options can be challenging for food service providers due to limitations and real-world issues. Maintaining sales and promoting population health should be complementary goals. It is critical to consider the following factors when working with food service providers to lower sodium levels: ingredient availability; professional culinary training; flavor consumer preference; Food Safety; and public concerns about costs.
The restaurant and restaurant sectors have made great strides in reducing the level of sodium in their offerings. The presented solutions have the potential to influence FAFH salt concentration across food serving settings and, in turn, American diet and cardiovascular risk, although there is still much room for improvement.