“ …Food companies with any companies that sell goods, their main goal is to make profit, sell a lot of products and make profit. And U.S. population is one of those populations that do not forgo the taste for health, right? So the taste is a very important aspect of food that we eat, and we love salt and sweet. So that is an issue.”
Dr. Lee talks about the importance of watching your sodium intake and discusses the ways that processed food can be changed to include less of it.
Soo-Yeun Lee (Soo) is a Professor in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois. Her research focuses on utilizing innovative sensory methods to develop healthful new product alternatives so as to promote lifelong healthful eating habits.
Shireen: Dr. Lee talks to us about the importance of watching your sodium intake and discusses the ways that processed food can be changed, to include less of it.
Podcasting from Dallas, Texas. I am Shireen and this is the Yumlish podcast. Yumlish is working to empower you, to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type two diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
Dr. Sue Yeun Lee is a professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at the university of Illinois. Her research focuses on utilizing innovative sensory methods to develop helpful new product alternatives. So as to promote lifelong healthful eating habits. Welcome Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee: Thank You Shireen.
Shireen: So Dr. Lee, help us understand a little bit about how you became interested in food science and specifically in the sensory aspect of nutrition.
Dr. Lee: Sure. I am originally from Korea. And when I was applying to college, my dad came home one day and said, you should apply to food science because there's a hundred percent job placement record for that major. And so that's how I got into it. And it's still the case. Food science is really important.
Everyone eats, right. Human beings have to eat to survive. And, uh, there are many, many different major food companies. So there's a lot of jobs out there. For me, As I went into the food science discipline, I was very happy because it's about science related to food. So any science, if you're interested in science, microbiology, chemistry, engineering processes. And then since we science, they're all part of food science portfolio, specifically sensory science. Um, I was interested in when I came to the U S to pursue my doctorate. I got my PhD at university of California at Davis, and has a really renowned sensory science program. And I was specifically interested in sensory science because we deal with human instruments, sensory science in a more layman's term would be taste testing.
So that really intrigued me. And so I got into sensory science.
Shireen: I mean, I feel like I can taste test food all day long, but help us understand some other components of it. So let's start with sodium. Can you talk a little bit about just salt and sodium and just the consumption of it today in most diets?
Dr. Lee: Sure. Sodium is part the positive cat ion of salt, the table salt that we all know.
So table salt is sodium chloride. So you have the sodium and the chloride and sodium creates a lot of issues, namely, related to cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. And so there is a. Uh, recommended adequate intake amount and also upper level that is provided by the Institute of medicine. And so the adequate intake of sodium daily is 1500 milligrams.
And the upper level that is designed as a maximum level of intake is 2,300 milligram. Unfortunately, we consume much, much more than that. So the average intake is. 3,400 milligrams. So it's more than double the adequate intake. And it gets actually detrimental, as you have long-term over-consumption of sodium because you get these deleterious health issues.
Shireen: What are the potential adverse effects of a long-term diet that is too heavy in salt?
Dr. Lee: Right now, The American heart association. says about one and 10 deaths related to over-consumption of salt. So that just that number is kind of alarming and mainly because of cardiovascular diseases, uh, and hypertension. But with long-term consumption, there's also in the literature reported in terms of cancer.
So gastric cancer could be an issue. And also there's been studies that show association with over-consumption of sodium with osteoporosis. So there are many different deleterious health effects, and unfortunately in the U S about 97% of the population consumes more than the upper limit and even in a younger age. So that's like from age one to above. So it's, it's a huge problem.
Shireen: Indeed. And can you, and I want to continue talking about the sodium and can you talk about some of the foods that we may not even realize has sodium where, you know, most people think, oh, I'm monitoring my sodium. I don't put a lot of salt in my food. Can you speak to some of that.
Dr. Lee: Sure, really the sodium consumption and where it comes from depends on the country or cultural background. Interestingly. So in the U S, and if we, just really focus on the U S about 77% of sodium comes from processed and packaged goods. And so the rest comes from home and restaurant foods.
So the home foods that you're cooking and you're thinking I'm not putting so much sodium in it, only composes about like 10% of your sodium in the diet. So really there's not much control because there's so much process and packaged food that we are consuming. And surprisingly, one of the top contributors of sodium consumption is grains and bread products, which really doesn't seem like they're very salty.
But in fact, they do contain a significant amount of salt and because it's a staple, that we consume so much of, It becomes one of the top three. So you have the breads rolls and those grains pasta. And then you have the cured meats and processed cheeses. And so like the process dairy products. So those, those are like the three main sources of sodium.
And then of course the processed and packaged.
Shireen: it's so interesting that you say that because like I said, normally when we think about sodium is like the sodium that we're adding in our food, right? Like actual table salt that we're adding into our food, but there's all of this hidden sodium within the breads, within the grains, you know, that, that are sort of that they sneak in there.
So that's, what's driving up so much sodium in consumption. Um, what are some of the options for the food production industry to lower the amounts of sodium in processed foods.
Dr. Lee: Yeah. So recently FDA has provided some recommendations. It's not a mandate yet, but recommendations to reduce sodium in many of the different process and packaged goods.
And they had initially short term two year and then the long-term ten-year goals and most of the process packaged foods that they list in their recommendations. After 10 years, you're supposed to Reduce down to about half of current average, original content. So that's a significant amount of reduction that is recommended over the course of 10 years. more recently, like just this year, they revised that recommendation and came up with a 2.5 year reduction recommendation.
And that's about around 20% for most of the food. So for example, like the breads that I was talking about. They are recommending about 17 to 20% reduction within the next 2.5 years. One of the main strategies that are currently used the most widely used is sodium reduction. Plus sodium replacement. One thing that anyone can do and including food companies is that you just reduce the sodium and don't do anything to mitigate whatever palatability loss or functionality loss that you have resulted in because of the reduction of sodium.
And if the reduction is small enough, it might not be even detected. So that's one primary way. Just reduce sodium. Obviously, if there's a significant amount of reduction, then you have to mitigate it somehow. So some mitigation strategies mainly for taste and flavor compensation is salt replacement.
So if you go in the grocery store and see those light salt type of products, It says light salt, right? And it is in like salt container. It is actually replacing significant amount of sodium fluoride with potassium chloride, which is a salt replacer. Um, so that's one, you can also reduce it using flavor modification.
So adding more herbs in seasoning, other seasoning or use, uh, flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate, which is very promising. In the literature, not in the current use and food industry, there's some other innovative ways to reduce it for different food matrices. So for example, if it's a semi-solid food like cheese or, or sausage, a lot of the salt that is embedded in these products are not actually released during the mastication process during the chewing process.
It's actually reported in the literature up to 90% are not actually released at all to be detected and we're just swallowing it, ingesting it. So if there's a way to make the structures such that it releases and diffuses the salt faster, Then you could reduce the salt yet you can get the full taste of saltiness and other flavor.
So the structural modification, that's another innovative method that is reported in the literature. In terms of the actual consumers who are trying to cook light. Obviously you can use those light salts or you can use herbs and spices. We did a research in our lab group to test the urban legend. Can you lower the salt,
And just enhance the flavor and still enjoy it? So we had two different soup systems that we tested and in fact, people actually add less salt when there's a heightened amount of herbs and spices. So we proved that. unfortunately, the liking decreased anyway. So that's, that's the barrier is like people love salt.
Saltiness is an innate like perception, just like sweetness. We are born to love. Sweetness and saltiness, and this is why it gets heightened as we consume more. We just want to add more of it because it's tastes good. It's good for us. Another aspect about salting, especially, I don't want it to be viewed as processed and packaged goods are not good.
They're important. As a food scientist, I believe in it. It is really not the unit volume of salt that has increased over the years that is creating this problem. In fact, if you look at the unit volume of salt in processed and package foods, they probably actually decreased or at, at a level that is maintained.
The problem is that people are eating more. So if you consume more food, You're going to consume more sugar and salt that is in it, right? Sugar, salt, fat. Those are all important ingredients in food that tastes good. But if you just eat more of the volume of food, mass of the food, then obviously you're gonna, you're going to consume more of those macro and micro nutrients.
So the industry is working really hard to lower it even more so that you can kind of offset how much has consumed. Uh, with lighter amount of salt, but again, food companies with any companies that sell goods, their main goal is to make profit, sell a lot of products and make profit. And U.S. population is one of those population that we do not forgo the taste for health, right?
So the taste is very important aspect of food that we eat, and we love salt and sweet. So that is an issue.
Shireen: Thank you for sharing that actually a number of questions come to my mind. So you mentioned something that was very important there at the very end that, so it companies, they want to make money. Right? So what I, what I'm gathering is that infusing the foods with the sugars, with the salt makes people want to keep coming back.
And buying those Processed or whatever kind of foods it makes them want to keep coming back to continue to purchase those items. And when you mentioned that we take our tastes very seriously right. In the United States. So it's important for us to get the right taste and flavor, but we're not willing to give up some of that in the name of better health or at least that's what we've seen so far.
Can you speak a little bit more to the science of it? What is it within the way these foods are produced or created in certain places? That makes us want to, like, what is happening on a science level within our mouths, as we're tasting these foods that, you know, trigger some sort of satisfaction or what is it really doing that makes us want to keep eating those same type of profile foods, be a sugary or salty.
Dr. Lee :
That's a very good question. I don't think I know the answer to that. Other than the fact again, sweet and salty tastes are innate like tastes. So the reason behind why we love sweet tastes is because a lot of the sugars are sweet and sugar, namely carbohydrate, including. They carbohydrates down to small Amano and dissect, right?
Like table sugars. All of those sugars are energy source for our body. In fact, the brain only uses glucose as energy source, so we need it. And so babies, when they're born, they only drink no milk and milk basically has nothing other than sweet. And so. They love it. And there has been research that has shown neonates the babies that were born only a few hours before tastes like different, Basic tastes like the salt, bitter sour, sweet and mommy. And they make faces very visceral showing. Like they're very happy and relaxed when they're getting sugar, but they're really unhappy and even cry and gag when they get bitter. So bitter is an innate dislike taste and sweet is innate like taste. And salt is like that too.
Salt is actually a micronutrient that our body needs. There is a minimum level that is recommended daily. Far less than the adequate amount. So it's around like 450 milligrams. So the adequate amount is like 1500 milligrams, but the must amount that you must eat every day is 450 milligrams. So it is a essential micronutrient and this is why we crave it.
But we just consume too much of it more than what our body needs. So those are kind of the reasons that I can give. I love those tastes. Now food is not just the basic five tastes that we learn in textbooks. Really food is very diverse and that's all coming from aromatics. The smell and smell is not much more so innate.
I mean, there are some components of innate people are publishing on that. For example, vanilla is like most widely accepted aroma across any culture. So there's, they're looking into are there like. Aromas to that. People love and why, but because there's thousands of smells and we be learn to love it.
Even fecal smell, we, learn to love it. And people go, what? Cheddar cheese has a very distinct, fecal aroma. There are a lot of fermented foods like cheeses that have very stinky aroma, but Still learned to love it. And one of my favorite foods, kimchi is fermented Napa cabbage and well fermented vegetable in many different forms has very strong aroma to the degree that even people like me who love kimchi would prefer to have kimchi stored in a separate kimchi refrigerator.
But we still grow to love it. So there's a lot of learning to appreciate and the aroma category, but the taste they're very innate. We're born to like it.
Shireen: That is so fascinating. What is the best way that you recommend for individuals to lower their sodium intake.
Dr. Lee: So, yeah, because Americans consume most of the sodium through process and packaged goods, I would recommend the consumers to be cognizant of looking at the food label and look because actually sodium is specifically listed out as one of the ingredients and in bold.
So you want to look at that and it also gives percent daily value. So if it's oh, consuming this half of this ramen noodle, Is going to be a hundred percent of your sodium daily value. That means if you consume the whole package, it's going to be two times the percent daily value, right? So you want to read the labels correctly.
And even if it's half, it's still a lot because you're consuming half of it with just one meal, a lot of the restaurant foods is kind of problematic because you don't get that information on the label unless you actually actively seek it out. On the internet, for example, like, I don't want to be saying any names, but like those sandwiches and burgers, I don't want to name any brands, but seemingly healthy type of restaurant foods like sandwiches or wraps.
Those contain a lot of sodium too, because it as a bread, a lot of cured meat, a lot of cheeses, as you can imagine, so that they could actually be, uh, exceeding the adequate intake with just one sandwich. So those are things that, you know, you want to watch out for, for processed foods. There are many different, reduced sodium.
And low sodium versions. So reduce sodium, you can claim it. And if you have 25% less than the original. low sodium, there's a set limit that you have to be below to be low sodium. So reduced sodium is kind of tricky because if the original had like 2,000 milligram. Then even the reduced sodium one would have a lot of salt.
So you wanna look at what that really means and look at the label and actual content. If you're really trying to watch out for salt consumption, I would recommend buying low sodium version. And then if that is really not tasty, add a little bit of salt. As you like consume it, like soups are very easy to do so you can, as you cook, you can just add a little bit of salt or maybe season it up with other seasoning herbs and spices Right? So those are my recommendation. If you're relying on a lot of package foods because of convenience and price and all of that, which is very important factors and consumption. If you're cooking a lot at home, that's much easier to Manage, but you have to realize some of the things that you're actually adding that is not salt or thought it was not salt contains salt.
So for example, like hot sauces, like Sriracha sauce or hot sauce, they contain a lot of salt. Although you're not thinking that they do and you're adding it for spiciness, but you're also adding salt in your food. Other than the salt that you had it, obviously soy sauce. Fish sauce. those do contain a lot of salt.
Yeah. So they're there hidden salts in the ingredients as well. So you want to be cognizant.
Shireen: This is very, very helpful Dr. Lee. So it's the messages, not only looking at the actual sodium that you put, like consciously add to your food, but also look at, read your labels, look for the sodium. Look for the percent daily value related to that, serving that you're cooking and sort of estimate out, but be more conscious of that salt intake.
So this was really, really helpful, Dr. Lee. at this point. We are toward the end of the episode, how can our listeners connect with you and just learn more about your work?
Dr. Lee: Yeah. So I'm at the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, department of food science and human nutrition. So we have a website and in the directory,
I am there. So you can find me there and my contact information is there. So if you have any questions, you can reach out to me by email. And there are several papers that are listed under my bio in the website. And you can see all the sodium reduction related research there.. So those are some ways there's a recent publication.
I'm just going to put a plug in. It has a wealth of information, most of this information that we discussed, we just recently published a companion of sodium reduction strategies and foods, a scoping review, and comprehensive review in food science and food safety journal. It's very heavy reading, 20 some pages.
A lot of tables and figures, but if you're interested go to that paper and you'll find all the details of what I just discussed.
Shireen: Lovely. And what we'll do is we link up that specific study as well in the show notes for this episode. And with that, thank you so much Dr. Lee for your time.
Dr. Lee: Oh, you're very welcome. My pleasure.
Shireen: Awesome. And to our listeners, after this episode, head over to our social media, our Facebook or Instagram, and answer this simple question. How do you watch your sodium intake when it comes to processed foods? Or how will you know your sodium intake when it comes to processed foods and over again to our Facebook, our Instagram at on Facebook and Instagram.
And we will see you there after the episode again, Dr. Lee, thank you so very much.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media @Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and @Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn. For tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspectives. You can also visit our website Yumlish.com for more recipes advice and to get involved with all of the exciting opportunities Yumlish has to offer. If you like this week's show, make sure to subscribe so you can hear more from us every time we post. Thank you again, and we'll see you next time. Remember your health always comes first. Stay well.