Published September 29, 2017
Campus Dining & Shops (CDS) is working to help the UB community eat heathier by lowering the amount of sodium in food sold on campus.
CDS is collaborating on the sodium-reduction initiative with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County as part of a five-year, $1.975 million grant that the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) received from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sodium Reduction in Communities Program. The goal of the program is to implement and evaluate community-based strategies for reducing sodium consumption in early childhood education centers, along with universities and colleges in four counties in New York State.
Lori Bendersky, a registered dietician and certified dietician nutritionist with CDS, spearheaded the initiative with Kaitlyn Summers, a registered dietician nutritionist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County. “Our goal is to focus our efforts ‘behind the scenes’ and work with the dining services’ staff and chefs to replace high-sodium items or modify recipes to reduce sodium levels,” Summers says. “This program will impact more than 46,000 students enrolled across targeted colleges and universities.”
Using Foodservice Suite®, a nutritional-analysis software program, CDS focused first on the popular Grab n’ Go items. “We started with Grab n’ Go because these items are distributed across campus and available in many of our units,” says Bendersky, noting that CDS makes more than 2,000 Grab n’ Go items each day. As an example of the kind of modifications CDS is making, she cites the house-made hummus cups, which now include everything pretzel thins, instead of traditional pretzel thins, which reduce sodium in the product by 45 percent.
But the most significant change came with deli meats, which traditionally contain high levels of sodium due to processing and preserving. The CDS team, led by Executive Chef Neal Plazio and Purchasing Manager Jorge Reinoso, found a high-quality, reduced-sodium deli turkey to replace the existing deli turkey, leading to a 42 percent reduction in sodium.
“This is huge,” Plazio says. “Deli turkey is one of our largest volume items, so it’s really going to make a big impact.”
New menu items with lower sodium also have been introduced this semester. A recently purchased vegetable spiralizer turns fresh vegetables into faux noodles, a trend that Bendersky says is catching on with today’s college students.
“Our new low-sodium Spiralized Zucchini Caprese Salad is simple ingredients but very colorful and attractive, something our students look for in dishes,” she says.
Another new trendy item is “overnight oats.” “We soak steel-cut oats overnight in almond milk and Greek yogurt, and then top them with fresh strawberries and granola for a nutritious and satisfying breakfast item or snack,” Plazio adds.
Sodium reduction is an effective strategy in managing hypertension. And while college students may not be at high risk, it’s important they learn to make informed food choices as they start on the path to adulthood.
Over the next four years of the grant, strategies to reduce sodium at UB will focus on gradually reducing sodium targets for different food categories; identifying lower-sodium products with distributors; training staff on techniques and changes to products, recipes or portion sizes; and developing venue-specific behavior-modification approaches to increase demand or access to lower-sodium foods.
“We are extremely excited to be involved in this initiative,” says Jeff Brady, CDS executive director. “In recent years, we have added more healthy items than ever before and our students, faculty and staff have responded positively. From providing more unsweetened beverage choices to increasing our plant-based protein offerings, we are continuously looking to provide healthier alternatives that are full of flavor.”
Bendersky notes CDS has already begun modifying recipes. “We are slightly reducing the portion sizes of high-sodium ingredients, such as cheeses and dressings, in our popular quinoa bowls without changing the taste our customers love,” she says.
CDS and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County are planning educational events for students, faculty and staff that will take place this the semester and during February, which is American Heart Month.
Too bad the CDC isn't funding efforts to remove processed meats, which IARC classified as Group 1 carcinogens.