Salt Subtly Trimmed from Many Foods Amid Campaign

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A company can hit the target for a category, such as canned soup, even if not every product makes the mark.

Boston-based cafe chain Au Bon Pain lowered salt in sandwiches and breads by getting suppliers to use fresh vegetables, whole grains and herbs, CEO Sue Morelli said in a release.

Kraft Foods Inc. squeezed salt out of products ranging from steak sauce to bacon partly by substituting potassium chloride, research Vice President Russ Moroz said. It’s also salty-tasting, but potassium lowers blood pressure, and most Americans don’t get enough of it, Farley said.

The switch works up to a point — generally, about 10 to 15 percent of the sodium content — before potassium chloride causes a bitter or metallic taste, Moroz said. Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft can use other flavors to mask that, but maintaining the taste is “really the challenge in continuing to reduce sodium,” he said.

“If you don’t make foods that taste good, people don’t buy them, and, in the end, we haven’t really done anything to impact the diet in the country,” Moroz said.

Bloomberg has seized on improving New Yorkers’ eating habits as a public health priority, leading charges that have banned trans fats from restaurant meals. It also forced chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus and limit the size of some sugary drinks.

He and city officials say they’re making pioneering, reasonable efforts to save lives and cut health care costs. Some food industry interests and consumers have said New York is turning into a nutrition nanny.

The salt effort has been less controversial, although the Salt Institute, a trade association, calls it misguided. There has been some scientific debate in recent years over how dangerous dietary salt is.

“If (Bloomberg’s) goal is to improve health, we recommend that he seek a second opinion based on the available peer-reviewed scientific evidence,” institute President Lori Roman said Monday.

Some companies, meanwhile, have embarked on their own salt-reduction plans.

ConAgra, which makes Chef Boyardee and Marie Callender’s products, is following its own 2009 commitment to shave the amount of sodium in its foods by 20 percent by 2015.

Salt was simply reduced in some recipes. Others have swapped some table salt with potassium chloride or sea salt, which has lower sodium levels, said Mark Andon, vice president of nutrition at Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods Inc. Another technique is using finer salt particles, which spread the taste over more surface area; that approach has reduced salt in its Orville Redenbacher and Act II popcorn by 25 percent.

But ConAgra hasn’t broadcast the changes on its food labels.

“If you put that on your packaging, that can be a negative taste cue,” Andon said.

PepsiCo Inc., which makes Frito-Lay products, announced in 2010 that it would cut sodium in key brands by one-fourth in five years. Spokesman Christopher Wyse said Monday that the Purchase, N.Y.-based company was looking for alternatives after a plan to use smaller salt crystals didn’t work. The company does offer “lightly salted” chips that have half the sodium of the regular ones.

The Campbell Soup Co. announced in 2009 that it was lowering salt in half its soups, including its famous condensed tomato soup. But two years later, the Camden, N.J.-based company said it was bringing back some higher-sodium soups out of concern about the taste.

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