A recent HealthFocus International (HFI) study reveals significant confusion and concern among consumers regarding acceptable sodium levels in the foods and beverages they regularly consume. While nearly two-thirds (65%) of all consumers express some concern about sodium intake, 79% do not know the recommended daily intake of 1500-2400mg.
An alarmingly low number of shoppers (29%) look for the sodium content consistently in each individual food they eat. But, even those consumers that monitor sodium do so intuitively, mostly by avoiding certain foods or categories, rather than by actually understanding their total daily sodium intake. One reason for this lack of diligence is likely that a large number of consumers, while concerned about sodium, are not concerned for health reasons, but rather for cosmetic and personal reasons. The perception among women that excess sodium causes water weight gain is a greater motivator for avoiding sodium than high blood pressure.
Sodium Misconceptions and The Blame Game
In addition to lack of knowledge, most consumers have misconceptions about the best way to reduce the amount of sodium in their diet. More than half of consumers (55%) reduce salt at the table when, in reality, it is only a small contributor to actual dietary sodium intake. And, nearly two-thirds believe sea salt (78%) is a healthier alternative.
Sodium concerns are lowest when consumers cook from scratch at home, which allows them to better monitor their sodium intake by reading nutritional labels and controlling the amount of salt they add while preparing food. However, their task is much more complex with fast food and certain prepared foods because these labels often don’t exist.
Overwhelmingly, consumers correctly identify processed packaged foods and fast food restaurants as the two big contributors to sodium intake. Specific foods and beverages include: french fries, hamburgers, and chicken from a fast-food restaurant, and frozen meals, and cured/processed meats, at the retail level. And, even though most consumers are able to correctly identify foods high in sodium, only approximately 1/3 of consumers are likely to avoid these foods.
"Most consumers are pointing the finger at certain food categories and at fast food operators when it comes to high sodium content," says Barbara Katz, president of HealthFocus International. "The solution will be found in shared responsibility. Consumers need to be aware of acceptable sodium levels in their overall diet and its role in health and, manufacturers need to provide better options. It is very difficult to stay within the recommended daily levels if you consume processed foods."
Taste Presents Greatest Barrier to Low-Sodium Products
Most shoppers say that they are interested in purchasing lower sodium products. However, for those shoppers that are not interested, the clear barrier is still the perception that they won’t taste as good. Indeed, when presented with a list of ten potential sodium claims such as "low sodium," "sodium free" and "reduced salt," there was little difference between the levels of interest in each claim. However, the claim that was most likely to entice consumers to buy a product was "reduced salt, same taste." Consumers clearly want to be assured that lower sodium does not mean less taste.
SOURCE: HealthFocus International