Taco Bell reduces salt in quiet campaign

Taco Bell's menu is packing less salt, 15 percent less on average since 2009, the result of a stealthy campaign by Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed.

"We have done the right thing. We have done the moral thing," Creed said when asked how Yum! is responding to consumer demand for healthier fare. "What we haven't done is toot our horn. No one out there suspects we have done it because we haven't changed the taste."

Taco Bell's sodium reduction was part of a Yum effort to make 15 percent of its menu items at the chain — as well as at Pizza Hut and KFC — conform to recommended mealtime limits for it, sugar and fats by the end of the year.

And by 2020, Yum wants 20 percent of its menu items to land at or below the limits, chief nutrition officer Jonathan Blum said. The idea is that if consumers eat three meals per day, one of those three meals at a KFC, Taco Bell or Pizza Hut can satisfy one third of the recommended daily allowances.

The initiative "is a bold goal across the globe," Blum said, adding that the objective is to reduce salt without losing flavor or market share.

"We don't want it to be perceptible," he said. "We just want to improve ingredients."

The increasing public debate about the health consequences of fast food appears to be driving sodium down at other chains. At McDonald's, for instance, the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with Cheese sandwiches have dropped their sodium levels between 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively, since 2011. Each McDonald's burger contains five salt packets each, at 960 and 1,100 milligrams respectively.

But critics say that in some instances, Taco Bell's efforts fall short. Even though the Steak Burrito Supreme now stands at 1,090 milligrams of sodium instead of 1,340, that much salt in a single blast is still not good for you, said Michael Jacobson, co-founder and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Steak Burrito Supreme "has a long way to go to get to a healthy level," Jacobson said.

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