IFT Comments on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake

April 2, 2009

Re: Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake

To members of the IOM ad hoc consensus committee:

The Institute of Food Technologists appreciates the opportunity to provide comments pertinent to strategies to reduce sodium intake to the IOM Ad Hoc Committee. IFT is a not-for-profit professional, scientific society involved in advancing the science of food. Our 20,000 members work in food science, technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere.

Sodium is an essential nutrient that occurs naturally in many foods, but studies have shown processed foods to be a prevalent source of dietary sodium. Progress has been made in reformulating these products, but significant scientific and processing challenges remain. Food manufacturers must balance the multiple functions of sodium in food beyond taste, such as its effects on other flavors, texture, microbiological safety, preservation, and color, and the multiple types of sodium in food, to create nutritionally sound and safe processed goods. For example, ionic balance must be maintained in certain products to ensure the integrity of their solid components (e.g. vegetables, noodles, or rice in soups, etc). Many food companies are already optimizing the acceptability of their products using a minimum amount of sodium or making tremendous strides towards lowering sodium in products, but at some point in sodium reduction, palatability falls off or food safety is no longer guaranteed for products. Where these levels are in various foods must be further explored. If a strategy of sodium reduction in foods is decided upon, IFT suggests the encouragement of a graduated reduction of sodium in processed foods, with partnership between the food industry and public health officials. Moreover, adequate time should be given to the food industry to create innovative product alternatives with decreased sodium that are attractive to consumers. Companies that have already created appealing low sodium products are to be congratulated.

Sodium reduction will likely be a difficult and long process for most Americans and would require behavioral changes, based on current sodium intake averages and the fact that many Americans prefer a perceived salty taste. Partnership between behavioral scientists and public health officials is necessary to determine the most effective ways to encourage individuals to change existing behavior. Targeted outreach to groups at increased risk of sodium sensitivity (e.g., African-Americans, middle-age and elderly adults, and individuals with hypertension, diabetes or renal insufficiency) to educate them on individual changes needed to reduce sodium consumption could also be helpful. IFT believes that outreach to the general public to decrease their sodium intake should be undertaken for prevention.

Research to determine mechanisms for altering the salty perception that many Americans prefer is needed. Investigations may focus on the enhancement of salt, stimulating or blocking salt receptors, replacement of salt with other chloride salts or salt substitutes, and understanding the multisensory effects of salt on other flavors and tastes. Research is also needed to establish the minimum amount of dietary sodium needed to maintain proper functioning of the human body for all subsets of the population, including athletes exercising under hot conditions and immunocompromised individuals with diarrhea. Although the Adequate Intake amount for sodium of 1.5g/day should be sufficient to maintain normal health and development, research suggests this level may not provide enough dietary sodium to cover all subsets of the population.

Thank you for your consideration of IFT’s comments. Please contact IFT staff scientist Sarah Ohlhorst, MS, RD, if IFT may provide further assistance. Mrs. Ohlhorst may be reached at 202-330-4976 and via email at sohlhorst@ift.org.


Sheri Schellhaass, Ph.D.

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