A spectrum of the hottest nutrition topics affecting the industry was showcased at The Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, held recently at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Topics included:
â‹… Reducing Sodium without Compromising Flavor
â‹… Menu Labeling: First California, Now Nationwide â€“ What You Need To Know
â‹… Nutrition Information: Who’s Looking for It and How to Offer Accurate Information
â‹… Gluten-Free: As Easy As ABC
â‹… Healthier Kids’ Menus
â‹… Seasons 52: Celebrating Eating Well
â‹… Unique Perspectives on Healthy Dining
A four-part series on FoodChannelPRO will describe how WFE conference presenters provided strategies for navigating through today’s nutrition challenges.
Part I: Reducing Sodium without Compromising Flavor
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, was the first presenter on perhaps one of the industry’s toughest challenges ever: reducing sodium. Amy is a registered dietitian and the program director of Strategic Initiatives at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. She provided several cutting-edge culinary strategies crafted by CIA’s chefs. Miller emphasized that the industry can be most successful by (1) taking a gradual step-wise approach to ensure consumer acceptance of lower sodium foods, (2) focusing on using low-sodium/high flavor ingredients, and (3) using culinary techniques and preparation methods that amplify flavor. A few of the techniques she presented included:
1. Employ the power of umami: Referred to as the â€˜fifthâ€™ taste, providing a pleasant and savory flavor, umami is found naturally in many foods such as vegetables (tomatoes, shiitakes, soybeans, sweet potatoes, carrots), aged cheeses like Parmesan, and seaweed. Umami adds intense, savory flavors, and it also enhances the perceived saltiness of a food so that less sodium can be used to achieve the same level of perceived saltiness.
2. Add healthy fats and oils: Healthy fats and oils can carry and add flavor. Using neutral flavored healthy oils like canola oil to “bloom” spices is one smart strategy. Using extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados can also contribute great flavor with little or no sodium.
3. Intensify flavor and aroma with spices, herbs, and aromatics.
4. Use cooking techniques that heighten flavor such as searing, roasting and grilling.
Next, Nancy Cutler, El Pollo Loco’s manager of Product Innovation and Optimization, described El Pollo Loco’s ongoing and systematic effort to reduce sodium in some of their items. El Pollo Loco has been a long-time leader when it comes to nutrition, and this popular chain is continuing to demonstrate its leadership through sodium reduction. Cutler emphasized that El Pollo Loco will always stay true to its mission of â€˜igniting consumers’ passion for flavor by serving indulgent, yet guilt-free, meals featuring signature flame-grilled meals inspired by the kitchens of Mexico.â€™
She shared an El Pollo Loco Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsodium success story:’ After a strategic process of finding exactly the â€˜right amountâ€™ of sodium reduction, as measured by customers’ purchase intent and rating of flavor, El Pollo Loco’s popular Chicken Tortilla Soup has 7% less sodium. It now contains 900 mg., down from an original 970 mg. El Pollo Loco projects being able to reduce the sodium in the popular soup to a target of 840 mg., as well as reducing the sodium in several other offerings.
Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, president of Healthy Dining, addressed the topic: â€˜Why Bother with Reducing Sodium?â€™ Many operators wonder if they really need to pay attention to sodium. Three factors set the stage for why this is an important issue for restaurants, the industry overall, and public health:
1. One of three Americans has high blood pressure and needs to follow a low-sodium diet. It is difficult for those who are committed to a low-sodium lifestyle to find menu choices that meet their nutritional needs. Restaurants offering a selection of lower sodium options will find this segment of the population to be loyal customers who also influence the dining destinations of their family, friends and co-workers.
2. New research shows that ALL Americans should lower their sodium intake, not just those with high blood pressure. This research shows that blood pressure naturally rises with age, thus increasing risks of heart disease and stroke for all of the population. Thus, preventive measures, such as lowering sodium intake, are important public health measures. Many health organizations are beginning to educate Americans about the importance of lowering sodium intake. Loyal nutrition-conscious guests will appreciate restaurants that are offering lower sodium selections, especially as consumers become more educated.
3. The Institute of Medicine issued a report earlier this year, â€˜Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States.” This report’s main recommendation was that mandatory national standards for the sodium content of foods (both restaurant and processed) be set â€˜expeditiously.â€™ If the industry wants to avoid additional government mandates, it’s important that all restaurant companies take this issue seriously and begin to proactively show progress in reducing the sodium content in the foods they serve.
Mueller closed the session on sodium by announcing HEALTHY DINING’S soon-to-be launched Ã¢â‚¬ËœSodium Savvy’ initiative. This campaign supports restaurants in offering a selection of lower sodium menu options. HEALTHY DINING’s team of registered dietitians is available to provide consultation to restaurants to help them develop or modify a few items to meet the Ã¢â‚¬ËœSodium Savvy’ criteria. The Ã¢â‚¬ËœSodium Savvy’ menu choices will be promoted to the public on HealthyDiningFinder.com. This resource will help many Americans who are watching their sodium intake. In addition, this campaign will provide a proactive, measureable demonstration of the restaurant industry’s efforts in offering lower sodium options.
For more information about Sodium Savvy and/or how your restaurant can lower sodium, contact Erica@HealthyDiningFinder.com.
Reporting by Anita Jones-Mueller. Jones-Mueller, MPH, is President and founder of HEALTHY DINING. She earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from San Diego State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Health Education from Portland State University in Oregon. She is a frequent contributor to FoodChannelPRO.