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industry offers “customized” menu options to its patrons, even in so-called standardized menus of chain restaurants, creates something of a moving target, making it difficult to know exactly what sodium levels patrons are choosing and how to adjust accordingly. Some restaurant/foodservice businesses, such as buffet restaurants or “build-your-own” burrito, sandwich, or salad operations, are nearly completely about options, with just a few suggested combinations to help guide the customer.

The Industry’s Efforts to Reduce Sodium in Foods

The abovementioned challenges are obstacles to reducing sodium in menu items and are likely reasons why the committee was unable to find much evidence that reducing sodium in foods has been a major initiative of the restaurant/foodservice industry in the past. This is not to say that individual restaurant/foodservice companies have not made efforts to lower sodium across their menus or to provide lower-sodium options.

More recently, there have been movements to give health concerns increased consideration during research and development—shifting the paradigm that taste, flavor, and consumers’ desires are the sole drivers to research and development (Scarpa, 2009). A few specific examples of recent industry efforts, although not a comprehensive list, are provided in Box 6-4.

As consumer interest in more healthful foods grows, corporate chefs and other menu decision makers are adding more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other more healthful fare to their menus (Berta, 2006; Maes, 2008; Ram, 2009; Weisberg, 2006). Conferences such as Worlds of Healthy Flavors, sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health, have helped support such actions by educating restaurant/foodservice leaders about diet concerns and techniques for improving the nutritional quality of menus and menu items (Hayden, 2004).

To improve awareness and encourage more restaurant/foodservice companies to reduce the sodium content of their offerings, the National Restaurant Association held a conference for industry leaders in 2008.35 Trade magazine articles report that chefs are experimenting with altering ingredients and preparation steps to enhance the flavors of menu items so that less salt can be used (Berry, 2009; Ram, 2008).36

There have also been efforts to provide consumers with more infor-


National Restaurant Association, 2008. Available online: (accessed December 12, 2008).


Restaurants and Institutions, 2009. Available online: (accessed February 11, 2010).

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