05/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Frito-Lay's Designer Salt for Healthier Chips Is Not the Answer

PepsiCo, parent company of Frito-Lay, announced at an investors' meeting yesterday that it will be making its products more healthy in the coming years. This includes cutting various products' average sodium per serving by 25% by 2015 and saturated fat and added sugar by 15% and 25%, respectively, this decade.

One of the company's attempts at sodium reduction is to create a different salt. One that has less sodium on one hand, but on the other has the same salty taste. The food scientists at Frito-Labs managed to create a designer salt after studying different shapes of salt crystals to try to find one that would dissolve more efficiently on the tongue. Normally, only about 20% of the salt on a chip actually dissolves on the tongue before the chip is chewed and swallowed, and the remaining 80% is swallowed without contributing to the taste. PepsiCo wanted a salt that would replicate the traditional "salt curve," delivering an initial spike of saltiness, then a body of flavor and lingering sensation. The result was a slightly powdery ingredient that tastes like regular salt. Small groups of U.S. and U.K. consumers couldn't tell the difference when comparing the two salts on chips last summer. For more on this, see the WSJ.

What you need to know:

At first read, you have to hand it to PepsiCo for going through all this effort to make their snacks and beverages healthier for us. The company has a record of gradually improving the health profile of its chips over the years, for example, by switching from trans-fatty oils to safflower oil.

But at the same time, consumption and sales are constantly rising. People are getting fatter.

Frito-Lay wants to sell more bags of chips in 2015 than they sell today. Here's some back of the envelope math. If chip sales grow by just 4% a year, by 2015, 25% more chips will be sold than today. This will not only cancel out the sodium reduction, it will increase the average calories consumed from chips by 25%.

That's why, despite the good intentions, creating less-unhealthy versions of snacks is not the solution. So long as mega-corporations continue to manufacture and sell snacks as their main line of business, people will be encouraged by their aggressive marketing to consume more and more snacks and less real foods.

Don't get us wrong, we don't deprive our kids of potato chips and candy, but our concept of "in moderation" is much more conservative than what snack manufacturers would like it to be. A bag of chips should not be the default in your child's lunch box every day of the week. Nor should a candy bar.

Remember - junk food is called that for a reason. Less un-healthy junk food is still junk food.

What to do at the supermarket:

Limit yourself to 3 snacks or less from the snack aisle. The rest need to come from the produce section (carrots, bananas, apples, etc.) or be baked/cooked/mixed by you at home.