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Licking Salt in New York

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A lot is being made of New York City’s move to limit sodium in foods sold in the five boroughs. This latest initiative — the city has already banned trans fats and requires restaurants to post calorie counts — seeks to prod manufacturers and restaurant kitchens to cut back on the salt.

soup_cans.jpgThe official goal is to reduce the amount of sodium in packaged food and foodservice by an average of 25% over the next five years. This is only a suggestion. There’s no law or regulation taking effect here. In effect, the city is asking companies to join in a voluntary campaign to reduce the amount of sodium city consumers are taking in.

That’s all good stuff, but published reports point out that the big packaged food companies have been quietly removing sodium from products like soup and prepared foods for some time now. Perhaps the most progressive company on this front has been Campbell Soup Co. ConAgra is also working on it, as is Progresso, Unilever, Sara Lee and other big brand-name food makers.

Have you ever tried a low-sodium version of a product? Did you buy it again? I recall trying a low-salt version of a vegetable juice I really liked, and I thought I was drinking liquid cardboard. What I ended up doing was cutting the regular version with water in the belief that I was at least diluting the sodium content.

I don’t know how effective that was, but it drove home the point that sodium was integral to my eating enjoyment, and indeed, it is. Sodium is perhaps one of the best flavor enhancers out there. It’s also a cheap ingredient, so manufacturers really like it.

Yet, sodium is suspected of playing a role in high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Some organizations have been trying for years to get the federal government to mandate less sodium; and in 2007, the Food and Drug Administration held hearings on the issue.

So, what kind of impact will New York’s new effort have? In the long run, the initiative won’t likely do much. It’s toothless, and companies aren’t going to make low-sodium versions of foods just for the city.

What the plan will do, however, is bring this whole issue one more step into the spotlight, and hopefully spur more companies to begin reducing sodium levels in their products.

And that includes retailers, with their high-flying private-label lines. Here in New York, A&P signed on to the city’s idea, saying it will work to reduce sodium in its own-brand product lines. That’s a good start.

(Photo credit: specialkrb/Flickr)

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