With an increased desire to be healthy, consumers and governments are putting the pressure on food companies to produce more nutritious snacks and beverages without compromising taste or quality — a challenge for science no less.
In the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recommends that a mandatory limit on the amount of sodium in products should be put into place. Additionally, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to develop new labels so consumers can better understand what’s good for them and what’s not.
Such pressure has had companies like Kraft promising to reduce the sodium content of its products sold in North America by 10 per cent by the year 2012.
According to Health Canada, sodium is needed for the body to function. Without sodium the body begins to have difficulty regulating fluids and blood pressure.
Sodium is also key to the function of muscular and nervous systems. However, most Canadians consume far too much, putting them at risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart and kidney disease.
The amount of sodium considered adequate for good health in adults is 1,500 milligrams per day, and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium should be consumed on a daily basis.
Data from a 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey shows that Canadian adults consumed an average of 3,092 milligrams of sodium a day.
PepsiCo certainly has a game plan for change. In March of this year, PepsiCo opened a new state-of-the-art laboratory specifically for developing more nutritious foods. At the same time, Pepsi said they would cut out 25 per cent of the sodium content in their main products.
This new laboratory uses complex tools, such as spectrometers, which use light to determine nutrients in samples of food. There is also access to a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction machine (RT_PCR), which can look at the DNA of a food sample.
In previous years, PepsiCo’s researchers had developed a way to reduce salt on chips by reducing the size of the salt crystals. This allowed the crystals to dissolve faster creating the illusion more salt was tasted even though there is actually less salt in the product.
Pepsi feels that consumers are fueling the demand for more nutritious food and are taking the opportunity to tap into that potential growth. Currently PepsiCo’s revenue from its more healthy line of food, such as Tropicana, Dole, Quaker and Tazo Teas, is only 18 per cent — or $10 billion — of their total, and CEO Indra Nooyi wants to triple that figure by 2020.
PepsiCo’s regular products such as Lay’s chips and soda are worth approximately $50 billion a year.
Not available to Canadians, but rolling out in the U.S., is a new Pepsi product designed to be nutritious and convenient. Tropolis, under the Tropicana brand, will be an 80-calorie fruit puree marked to kids. The company also recently purchased a Russian dairy and juice maker, and plans to work together to produce healthier snack food.
With major plans to reduce sodium, Pepsi also has set a 10-year goal to reduce added sugar by 25 per cent. Research on new low-calorie and artificial sweeteners is underway.
Currently there are five FDA approved artificial sweeteners: acesulfame (Sunett), aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low).
Out of all of the sweeteners listed none of them have led to illness such as cancer or the growth of tumors. Saccharin was almost banned, as a Canadian study had shown that it led to bladder cancer in rats, but the results was later proved to be inaccurate as male rats have a pH factor that increased the chances of bladder cancer.
Science is being used to further enhance our food. Few items on shelves in grocery stores are 100 per cent natural and haven’t been modified in any fashion. Just sit, watch and exercise caution as scientists dive into making food taste just as good minus the health risks.