The American Heart Assn. (AHA) recommends "healthy American adults should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day." The recommendations for lowering sodium intake include increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and avoiding highly processed food -- the major contributor of sodium in the modern diet.
The challenge to the AHA's position (and that of the rest of the anti-sodium lobby) is that to date science hasn't proven a link between sodium intake and cardiovascular health or hypertension in healthy adults. This overlooked fact, however, has not stemmed consumer demand for low-sodium foods. Also, there are still the estimated 4-8 million or so Americans whose hypertension or pre-hypertension is considered sodium sensitive.
The public perception that reduction of salt is an essential part of a healthy diet has not abated. So, even if salt isn't a smoking gun, there is and will continue to be a huge market for low-sodium and salt-reduced foods.
Spicing up flavor
There are many ways to reduce dietary sodium. The simplest is to "spice" up the dish. For example, unique flavors and healthful ingredients have made Indian foods a hit. "It's safe to say that authentic Indian Cuisine is steadily becoming the next ethnic 'world cuisine,' increasing in popularity every day, says Dhiraj Arora founder of Arora Creations Inc. (www.aroracreations.com), Brooklyn, N.Y. Arora wanted to bring the flavor of India to everyone, so he created the Authentic Indian Spice Blends line of all-natural, gluten-, MSG- and sugar-free spices. "Since many of these spices (curry and ginger) are functional foods, spicing is a healthful way to naturally lower sodium," says Arora.
"Salt free" is almost synonymous with Mrs. Dash. "Mrs. Dash is a completely salt free, all-natural seasoning blend," says Luann Schafer, marketing manager, Precision Foods Inc. (www.precisionfoods.com), St. Louis. Instead of salt, Mrs. Dash uses a citrus component that helps bring out the flavor of dishes. The absence of salt enables Mrs. Dash to deliver "cleaner, purer and more invigorating flavor than other seasoning blends on the market," says Schafer, adding, "its layers of flavors -- the only seasoning with 14 coarse-ground herbs and spices plus dehydrated vegetables all merged to provide better visual appeal and taste."
Mrs. Dash is moving outside of its well-known role as the primary non-salt shaker on the table. Processors are currently using Mrs. Dash as an ingredient in breading, rubs, salad dressings and topping for frozen fish.
Many spices are rich sources of flavonoids, a class of phytochemicals commonly known for their antioxidant properties associated with protection from cancer and heart disease. Could the flavonoids themselves serve as both seasoning and food preservatives? That thought grew into a product called Flavomare. "The idea of flavonoids being used as flavoring substances was totally new at the time the patent application was conceived," says Lasse Kurppa of SLK-Selako Co.s (www.selako.com), Helsinki, Finland. "After that date there has been significant progress in flavonoid research."
According to Kurppa, employing salt as a preservative throughout history has spoiled our taste. "Due to the use of salt for centuries to prevent foods from spoiling, people have grown accustomed to the taste of salt. Flavonoids used as spices must have a salty taste, and they have to enhance the salty taste in foodstuffs even if the foodstuff itself contains only low quantities of salt or contains no added salt," Kurppa states.
By combining different flavonoids, explains Kurppa, it is possible to enhance any of the basic flavors that can be sensed by the human mouth. The effect of enhancing salty taste can be achieved by using at least three flavonoids. "Because flavonoids enhance the taste, only small quantities of the ingredient are needed [to achieve] partial reduction of salt in foodstuffs without losing any of the taste or preservative properties of salt," adds Kurppa. As strong antioxidants, flavonoids also serve to preserve the foods and protect the flavor.
Not your father's salt
A simple and innovative way to lower the sodium without changing flavor is to process the salt crystal so that a little salt goes a long way. That's the idea behind Cargill's Alberger brand flake salt, according to Carlos Rodriguez, marketing manager for Cargill Salt, Cargill Inc. (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis.
Shaped like tiny hollow pyramid shells, Alberger salt crystals have a larger and more irregular surface, which makes them cling to foods and any other spices more readily yet dissolve faster in the mouth. For topical applications, such as crackers and other snack foods, that translates to a "maximum flavor burst," with a minimum amount of salt. It also allows the salt to more easily contribute to uniformity and consistency of blend and other products.
"Campbell has been working on ways to reduce sodium for many years," says Juli Mandel-Sloves, senior manager of nutrition and wellness communications for Campbell Soup Co. (www.campbellwellness.com), Camden, N.J. "We first offered low-sodium soups in the 1960's and first launched reduced-sodium Campbell's Healthy Request soups in the 1980's.