After an opening day of presenters outlining health facts regarding sodium and levying challenges to the industry, the second day of the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) “Sodium and the Healthy Plate” symposium tackled the question that wouldn’t rest: now what? By exploring consumer insights and preferences as well as success stories from suppliers and restaurateurs, presenters opened the door to small changes capable of shifting the industry.

“The people in this room have the ability to change things in a major way,” said Shaping America’s Health Chairman James Hill in his welcoming address to the crowd of nearly 200 gathered in Chicago’s Hyatt Regency ballroom.

Shelley Goldberg’s opening presentation relayed consumer attitudes regarding nutrition messages and dietary recommendations. A senior director for the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Goldberg showed a video highlighting the general public’s discontent with confusing and contradictory messages regarding nutrition. Assessing consumer comments, Goldberg identified ways in which industry decision-makers can clarify their message. She advised all consumer-targeted messages to be positive, brief, specific, and manageable, adding: “We have a real opportunity to move the needle here.”

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Paul Rozin echoed Goldberg’s words, challenging the industry to fix the environment, including portion size and the overwhelming number of choices, while crafting incremental changes.

The physiology of taste served as University of Connecticut professor’s Valerie Duffy’s chief talking point. In addition to outlining salt’s influences on overall oral sensation, including its impact on sweetness and balance, Duffy advocated for a salt alternative to solve bitterness, suggesting a pinch of sweetness as a compelling antidote.

There’s an opportunity, Duffy said, “to take a holistic approach to sodium reductions to maintain food enjoyment as well as diet healthfulness.”

Thursday’s festivities concluded with an experiential workshop courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). CIA Director Christopher Loss explored the interrelatedness of the senses and temperature as a strategy for minimizing sodium without adversely affecting taste. Author David Kasabian, author of Umami: The Fifth Taste, followed, noting that a greater presence of umami lends itself to a decrease in salt.

—Daniel P. Smith

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