Low-sodium menus pass school tests

Low-sodium menus pass school tests – includes recipes

Roger W. Miller

Dramatic indifference might be the way to describe the reactions of school children to two experiments in reduced-sodium diets in their school meal programs. Most of the students hardly noticed that certain menu items had been made with less salt than usual. And those who did notice generally preferred the reduced-sodium foods to their saltier counterparts.

The two experiments were half a continent apart–one in Louisiana and the other in New England–but they are very close on how the school children have responded to less sodium in their foods. The acceptance of the reduced-sodium menus displayed by the students in both cases indicated that the acquired American taste for salt is not all that firm.

Excessive consumption of sodium, usually in the form of salt (sodium chloride), is associated with high blood pressure. High blood pressure, in turn, is linked to increased risk to stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

In the Louisiana experiment, salt used in recipes for dinner rolls and other baked products was reduced in steps by 25 percent to 75 percent with no recognized difference in quality and no increase in plate waste.

The New England project (still going on) involves monitoring the blood pressure of high school students on two campuses as they go on and off reduced-sodium diets. It’s too early to tell whether the diet will lower student’s blood pressure. However, officials say it’s not too early note that the students don’t mind the reduced-sodium diet, and are even beginning to prefer it.

The Louisiana study was done in an elementary school in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. The dinner roll recipe was the one in which sodium was finally cut by 75 percent, with the amount of salt used for 100 rolls reduced from four tablespoons to one. The kitchen staff tried 17 recipes before it found one that achieved the reduced salt content while maintaining acceptable taste, color and shape. The only other change in the final recipe agreed upon for the yeast-leavened rolls was using 1-2/3 cups of nonfat dry milk rather than 1-1/3 cups. (See the recipe accompanying this article.)

Sodium was also reduced in hamburger buns, hot dog buns, biscuits, cornbread and French bread. It took only three tries to get the right biscuit recipe and that brought a sodium reduction of 50 percent.

Not only was there no discernible difference in food left on the plates after the sodium reductions, but also no negative comments were received from either students or faculty about the changed products.

The Metairie project involved only school lunches. However, an earlier, long-term Louisiana heart study had found that children from 10 to 13 get about 30 percent of their daily sodium intake from school lunches, and that almost a third of the total daily sodium intake came from grain products, including breads and pastas.

With funding for 2-1/2 years from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Metairie program has been expanded and now includes fat and sugar reduction. More “cardiovascular healthy” food items are being prepared and the students’ choices monitored in four schools. The expanded project includes an eating and exercise behavior curriculum taught in science and physical exercise classes. Students’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior about eating and exercise are measured along with their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight.

The New England experiment is being conducted at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H., and at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., private boarding schools for high school age boys and girls. It involves all the regular meals served to the students. The program is a two-year study, with students at both schools alternately being served reduced-sodium and regular diets. Blood pressure is being monitored weekly in 400 students.

In a pilot study for the program, total sodium intake of the students was decreased by 35 percent, according to Dr. R. Cur Ellison of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Ellison is conducting the program under a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The study will deal later with fat in foods, just as the Louisiana study has been expanded.

Both Ellison and Donald Doane, director of auxiliary enterprises at the Exeter campus, said that the reduced-sodium food have been readily accepted by the students. In fact, Ellison said students often complain about the salty taste when the regular sodium fare is returned to the tables.

Ellison points out that in previous studies, “palatability” ratings by students of regular and reduced-sodium items came out virtually the same. These studies are described in an article by Ellison and others that will appear in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Doane thinks that today’s students are more nutrition conscious and therefore are presumably more willing to accept salads, vegetables and low-sodium fare. “It used to be that you couldn’t put broccoli on the menu,” he noted. “Now you’d better have it at least once a week.”

Students are showing a marked preference for healthier foods, Doane said. “I used to buy four cases of [one particular brand of sugar-coated] cereal a week,” he said. “Now I buy one of the brand a month.” He said the students are showing a preference for shredded wheat, a cereal low in salt and devoid of sugar.

Cards on the tables at Exeter tell the sodium content of the food items served. Regular and low-sodium varieties of some foods are offered, and Doane says that the peanut butter breaks about fifty-fifty between regular and reduced-sodium, while the students show a slight preference for regular potato chips over unsalted ones.

Doane buys 1.2 percent sodium mayonnaise rather than the regular 1.5 percent. He purchases low-sodium hot dogs and bologna from a major meat packer, and gets ham and cold cuts with less sodium from a Buffalo, N.Y., firm. Reduced-sodium cheeses are also used, as well as bread with 50 percent less sodium.

Ellison said it’s too soon to tell if such a diet will reduce blood pressure over a school year. In short-term pilot studies, both systolic and diastolic pressures were slightly lower in the aggregate for boys, although no significant change was noted among the girls.

The head of the Louisiana study, Dr. Gail Frank, also believes that children are more nutrition conscious. In some ways, she said in a telephone interview, the schools are behind the rest of society in offering more nutritious foods.

Frank, a registered dietitian and head of the Nutrition Core at the National Research and Demonstration Center in Arteriosclerosis, Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans, believes schools are an excellent place to practice good nutrition. “Schools are a key organizational vehicle with financial backing and legislative directives to support our greatest natural resource–our children,” she wrote in the March-April 1983 issue of Health Values.

She emphasized in the telephone interview the need to work with school cafeteria personnel, whom she called “very serious about and dedicated to their work.” Further, she said, school cafeterias in most school districts are pretty much uniform in size and in the number of meals served. Thus, recipes found suitable by one district can generally be used by all. Frank has also found that it helps to explain the purposes of programs involving menu changes to the food service managers and technicians.

“You always wonder where to begin [with a nutrition program],” frank commented. “You can’t impact on the home environment immediately, so the school seems like the logical place to start.” Further, she noted that, by coupling proper diet and exercise programs, schools are an “excellent arena” for programs to prevent cardiovascular disease.

COPYRIGHT 1985 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group