Health & Wellness

Sodium Reduction

Sodium consumption and its association with heart disease and hypertension is a global public health concern firmly in the spotlight. Most country-specific dietary guidelines recommend consumers either reduce sodium intake or limit consumption of foods with high sodium content. The focus of many sodium reduction initiatives is to limit the consumption of certain foods to lower overall sodium intake. However, other strategies may also be beneficial to help manage blood pressure levels and risk for heart disease, such as:

  • Sodium reductionConsume recommended amounts of potassium1 (can contribute to blood pressure control)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active
  • Eat a healthful diet 

New research and authoritative reports not only encourage consumers to lower intake, but also urge food manufacturers to decrease the sodium content in common foods. The U.S. dairy industry continues to explore innovative techniques to create reduced-sodium cheeses that meet high standards for taste, texture, moisture content and overall food safety. At the same time, dairy permeate has the potential to act as a salt substitute in a broad range of food products, which serves the international emphasis on reduced sodium intake.  

Sodium content and cheese

While cheese is frequently cited as a top source of sodium in the diet, in reality, its contribution is minimal. In U.S. diets, cheese contributes only 7.8 percent of average daily sodium intake.2 The sodium in cheese is the natural result of the use of salt in the cheese make process to support moisture control, texture and flavor as well as food safety.  

The U.S. cheese industry produces a variety of cheeses naturally low in sodium, as well as a range of reduced-sodium cheese options. Cheeses naturally low in sodium include Swiss, Monterey jack, ricotta and parmesan. Reduced-sodium varieties of favorites such as Colby, provolone, muenster, mozzarella and cheddar are also widely available.  

Selection of cheese based on firmness and age is a simple method to help determine sodium content. In general, softer, less-aged cheeses contain less salt than harder, aged cheese varieties.  

Food formulators, including dairy manufacturers, continue to develop methods to successfully create lower-sodium foods, as simply removing salt can negatively impact flavor, texture and overall functionality. In some cheese varieties, sodium reduction can pose consumer perception, taste preference and likeability challenges. Cheese makers must also manage variables such as cheese type and even form to achieve reduced sodium levels.  

The U.S. dairy industry proactively seeks ways to lower the sodium in cheese-including through product innovations-while it maintains strict expectations for food safety and delivers on consumer taste expectations. Some highlights of U.S. dairy industry sodium reduction efforts include:

  • Product Analytics: Study of actual sodium levels in commonly consumed cheeses to assess variability across brands, cheese forms and regions, and to identify opportunities for the industry.
  • Consumer Sensory Testing: Research to understand consumer reaction to reduced sodium levels in cheese as well as consumer acceptance of varying levels of sodium reduction.
  • Cheese and Sodium Best Practices Task Force: A group of cheese makers and dairy industry partners works together on industry-wide initiatives to proactively address the opportunities and challenges associated with sodium content reduction in cheese.

Sodium reduction

Permeate for sodium reduction

The salt-enhancing characteristics of dairy permeate (also called dairy product solids, deproteinized whey or modified whey) make it ideal to reduce the sodium content of various food products. Permeate can reduce salt usage levels in many applications while maintaining consumer-acceptable flavor. 

Permeate is a mineral-packed food ingredient derived from the production of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, ultrafiltered milk, milk protein concentrate and milk protein isolate.   

Another type of permeate, called delactosed permeate, is created when the lactose is removed from permeate. It contains about three times the mineral content as permeate and is about 60 percent lactose compared to the 80 percent lactose found in standard permeate. The high concentration of calcium, potassium and magnesium in delactosed permeate can enhance the nutritional profile of many foods and likewise acts as a salt substitute.  

Permeate provides natural salty characteristics to foods. In general, it can be an option for food applications where lactose or whey are used including baked goods, soups, confectionery, meats, dry mixes, dairy foods and beverages.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 7th Edition (2010), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2011.
2 Hentges E. Sources of Sodium in the Food Supply. Paper presented at: Institute of Medicine Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake, Information-Gathering Workshop; 2009; Washington, D.C.