Scientists working to create salt substitutes

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 17th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

People looking to cut down their sugar intake have a plethora of options to sweeten their food. From Splenda to agave nectar to Sweet and Low, there’s no shortage of sugar substitutes. But salt? Well, that’s another story.

For years, nutrition experts have been urging us to cut down on our salt intake. Salt consumption has been linked to high blood pressure and cardiac disease. In fact, if the average American reduced his or her intake by just half a teaspoon, more than ninety-thousand lives would be saved each year. Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on the food industry in an effort to get it to reduce the amount of salt it adds to its products.

But what about those of us who crave that salty taste? Where’s our Splenda, our version of agave nectar?

Scientists are hard at work to answer that question. They have come up with several methods of delivering the punch of salt without as much actual sodium chloride.

For example, researchers have tried wrapping salt particles in a special coating so they release their flavor slowly, like extended-release painkillers. They have also experimented with coolants, like the kind found in chewing gum that promises a cooling sensation. These coolants should make food taste just as salty with about twenty percent less sodium.

Another possibility: finding naturally salty tasting substances that contain less sodium. For example, scientists have been experimenting with a compound made from seaweed. Unfortunately, in addition to tasting salty, in some recipes the compound also tastes fishy.

For the moment, your best bet is to forego the salt shaker, if you have a health issue that makes it wise to cut back. At least until science comes up with something better.