Sodium Reduction and Its Effect on Food Safety, Food Quality, and Human Health



ABSTRACT:  Sodium is an essential nutrient with important functions in regulating extracellular fluid volume and the active transport of molecules across cell membranes. However, recent estimates from NHANES III (Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data show that over 95% of men and over 75% of women exceed the recommended daily tolerable upper intake of sodium. Since these high levels of dietary sodium are associated with a high prevalence of hypertension, prehypertension and, possibly, other adverse effects on health, many national and international health organizations recommend that sodium intake be significantly decreased. Traditionally, salt (sodium chloride) has been used as a food preservative that kills or limits the growth of foodborne pathogens and spoilage organisms by decreasing water activity. Salt also performs other important functions in foods by adding flavor and masking bitter tastes, controlling growth of yeast and fermentative bacteria, and promoting binding of proteins and other components in foods to achieve desired textures. Many processed foods contain high levels of salt and several countries have developed national programs for significantly reducing the sodium chloride content in many processed foods and encouraging a decrease in discretionary salt use. This review considers published data on the apparent adverse health effects of excess salt intake as well as the important functions of salt in different foods and possible strategies for reducing sodium levels in processed foods while still producing safe foods that consumers find acceptable.