The European based corporation is the owner of famous US brands such as Colman’s (mustard), Hellmann’s / Best Foods (mayonnaise), Knorr (sauces, stock cubes, ready-meals, meal kits, ready-soups, frozen foods), Lipton, Mazola, Ragú (pasta sauces), Skippy (peanut butter), Slim Fast (diet products), and Wish-Bone (salad dressing). Unilever is also the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer, owning Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Good Humor, and Klondike in the states.
What you need to know:
Salt is composed of sodium and chloride. 1000 mg of salt contain 400mg of sodium. Our bodies need salt but over consumption leads to high blood pressure, hypertension, and other nasty diseases. And boy do we over consume.
Around 75% of the sodium we use is from processed foods. And since most of the food we eat nowadays is processed, there is no escape.
The modern consumer, pressed for time and looking for convenience, is ingesting almost twice the recommended allowance of sodium per day (2400mg of sodium is the recommended value).
If manufacturers of processed foods substantially reduce the amount of sodium in their products, it will have an immediate effect on most of the Western world.
Problem is that food tastes better when salty. And since companies don’t want to lose market share by selling unbecoming foods, we have been drowned in salt for decades. No company would like to take the first risky step of sodium reduction, right?
Wrong, Unilever has stepped up.
Though some may say Unilever is taking a foolhardy approach that will hurt its revenues, this is actually a smart move.
Unilever is taking preemptive measures before EU food authorities mandate it. The UK’s Food Standards Authority has already notified manufacturers that by next year (2010) guidelines will be in effect for several food categories. And stricter regulation may follow suite in coming years.
Basically, Unilever is doing something it would have had to do in any case. But by creating a media buzz around it, they gain credibility as a responsible food purveyor and a leader in nutrition.
As an aside, Unilever is also very active in promoting front of package food labeling called “Choices” in Europe. A similar plan, dubbed “Smart Choices” has been introduced in the US. The idea is to enable consumers to know in a quick glance if a certain food passes a certain nutrition benchmark.
What to do at the supermarket:
The best way to drastically reduce sodium consumption is simply by preparing food at home. If you don’t have time, and do buy canned soups or frozen dinners, opt for the low sodium options. You can always sprinkle a bit more salt on top at home if it is not salty enough for you.
Soup mixes such as Knorr’s can be brutal in terms of sodium content, so watch out. Also, look for salt in strange places like cookies, cereals, and breads. You’d be surprised.
Products with more than 600-800 mg of sodium per serving are to be avoided as much as possible.
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