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Lowering Your Sodium Intake

Charlyn Fargo on

Most of us eat too much salt. We may not use the salt shaker, but we eat out too often and we eat too many processed and packaged foods.

Three slices of bread or one teaspoon of table salt gives us all we need for a day. More than 90% of Americans consume too much sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

We only need around 450 milligrams of sodium per day, and the recommended maximum amount is 2,300 milligrams, or 1,500 milligrams for those at risk for hypertension. But average consumption exceeds 3,000 to 3,500 milligrams per day -- or 50% to 100% above the upper limit. More than 70% of our sodium intake comes from processed and packaged foods, primarily cured meats, bread, cheese and soups.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are trying to help reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume by helping companies lower the sodium in processed foods. In a new study, researchers did a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on sodium reduction strategies in food production.

"Sodium overconsumption is a huge health concern, and the FDA has recommended sodium reduction in food since the 1980s, but we haven't succeeded yet. While the unit volume of salt in the food supply has not increased, the amount of sodium consumption has gone up, because we just consume a lot of food," says Soo-Yeun Lee, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois and co-author of the paper.

The researchers identified five main strategies: Salt reduction, salt replacers, flavor modification, physical modification and functional modification.

 

Why not just remove salt from a recipe? It's not possible to completely eliminate sodium because it has both sensory and functional properties. Salt is used for meat preservation and to make bread dough rise.

The team found many of the studies combined more than one method, such as salt removal with salt replacers and flavor modification or salt removal with physical modification.

Salt replacers include potassium chloride, calcium chloride or other chloride or acid salts. However, the researchers found these substitutes tend to have a bitter taste, so they are often used in combination with flavor modifications, such as umami substances or bitter blockers.

With physical modification, another method of reduction, salt crystals are encapsulated, which changes how the salt is dissolved in the mouth. This can alter the saltiness perception, allowing for a reduction in the amount of sodium necessary to create a salty taste. You can also create an uneven distribution of the salt in a product that can further help enhance the perceived saltiness of the food product through taste contrast.

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