Food companies face considerable challenges in reformulating with reduced salt, in terms of technical issues where salt plays a functional role as a preservative or to control the fermentation of yeast, and also in retaining a flavour that is acceptable to consumers. Nevertheless, salt reduction in processed foods has been a major target for manufacturers, particularly since the Food Standards Agency (FSA) set targets across various food categories for 2010.
However, Unilever has said that it is not basing reductions on what can be achieved in individual products, but has chosen to take a ‘holistic’ approach instead, looking at the issue in terms of daily dietary contribution. By 2010, it hopes to achieve a daily intake of 6g of salt per person – as recommended by the FSA as well as many other national food authorities – and is targeting the WHO recommendation of a 5g maximum by 2015.
Unilever’s vice president of Nutrition and Health Gert Meijer said: “We measure the contribution of our products to daily salt intake in the context of their role within a typical menu – looking at how often consumers usually eat products containing salt, and how much each product contributes to their daily diet. For example, soup contributes ten percent to the amount of salt (sodium chloride) to an average daily diet. Therefore, in order to meet our target for 2010, the salt in our soups would have to be reduced to 360mg of sodium per 100g; provided the rest of the diet is within reduced sodium parameters.”
Unilever said that it is reformulating its products using salt replacers, as well as aromas, herbs and spices that enhance salty flavours.
“This is a unique approach as we are dealing with our portfolio in a holistic way in terms of daily dietary contribution, rather than only looking at the input of individual products, or simply launching a lower salt range,” said Meijer.
Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Although salt is a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, campaigners for salt reduction, like the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) consider the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, far too high.
Unilever said that its latest salt reduction strategy forms part of its Nutrition Enhancement Programme (NEP) which periodically assesses the nutritional makeup of its product range. It claims that the NEP has so far resulted in the removal 9,100 tons of salt from its foods.