Critical Sodium Reduction Research Gaps

Unintended Consequences

  • Limited publicly funded research explores the potential unintended consequences of sodium reduction for quality, safety, nutrition, or cost.
  • Scarce data exists to provide guidance on how to effectively and economically implement gradual sodium reductions in diverse food categories by a range of food manufacturers.
  • Minimal work has focused on the physiological response and consumer acceptance of food-based sodium reduction strategies in non-clinical populations, and for a variety of subgroups such as age, race, and health status. 

Potential Win-Win Outcomes

  • Insufficient peer reviewed research has examined reduced-calorie intake together with lower sodium and higher potassium levels in the diet, which collectively may be more beneficial in reducing population hypertension, as well as other weight-related chronic diseases.
  • More research should compare whether a comprehensive approach to the role of food versus a single nutrient focus on sodium is more effective at delivering positive nutrition, reducing disease and deficiencies, and helping weight management. 
  • Further work is needed to examine long- and short-term cost-benefit analysis of sodium reduction strategies, factoring in cost savings from potential reductions in cardiovascular diseases, as well as morbidities and mortalities associated with food safety. 
  • Further attention is needed to update curriculum and continued education opportunities to develop food scientists and technologists with the capacity to improve the overall nutritional profile of a food or beverage product not just reducing sodium content.  

Sensory Science

  • Currently, no national data exists on American taste preferences. 
  • Much work remains to understand the mechanisms involved in various salt taste receptors using both human and animal models and exploring how to stimulate and block salt receptors.
  • Further research is needed to understand why humans tend to acquire a high salt preference, which may be reflected in the number and types of receptors in the mouth and gut, as well as their impact on signaling pathways to key areas of the brain. 
  • More attention is needed on the sensory differences among different sub-populations, particularly individuals with hypertension, African American adults, and middle-aged or older adults.
  • Additional research must examine why children tend to have higher preference for salt than adults and how early experiences shape sensory responses.   
  • Whether sodium reductions are necessary across the food supply to lower preferences or gradual reductions in key product categories would help lower salt preference (at least in key products) and ideally sodium intakes. 

Salt Enhancements

  • Making sodium chloride more readily interact with the tongue, requiring less sodium in the food product to ensure consumer acceptance. 
  • Utilizing tasteless odorants to influence perception.
  • Using flavor compounds, umami compounds, phantom aromas, proteolysed protein sources, and L-aspartic acid/L-arginine blends in new or reformulated lower sodium products. 
  • Investigating the salt-enhancing characteristics of permeate, which is dairy product solids.
  • Teaming product developers with culinary experts to maximize how cooking techniques such as searing can help reduce the need for sodium in foodservice operations and in home cooking. 

Salt Substitutes

  • Food scientists and technologists continue to examine the product safety, quality, and commercial viability of salt substitutes. 

Product Improvements, Packaging & Promotion

  • Mindful of balancing single nutrient initiatives with overall positive nutrition goals, food scientists and technologists strive to reduce sodium, calories, added sugar, saturated fats, and trans-fat from a product while also increasing dietary fiber amongst other micronutrients known to have a positive influence on human health. 
  • Research and development has also extensively explored ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and specifically integrate fruits and vegetables into more products and meals year round. 
  • Aside from product nutrient density improvements, food scientists and technologists have been working specifically on portion size control through packaging and promotion.