Healthier ready meals thanks to dental plaque?

Scientists have discovered an artificial substitute for salt, which could mean healthy convenience foods and ready meals in the future.

A team of researchers suggests the compounds, found in dental plaque, could help food manufacturers slash the amount of salt used in pre-prepared meals.

The experts at the University of Nottingham found that compounds called dextrans can trick the human brain into tasting food saltier than it really is.

The team said that dextrans, which are commonly found in dental plaque, could soon be used to help food producers reduce the amount of salt in their ready meals and snack products.

Professor Bettina Wolf, who led the study, says: ‘Though reducing the salt content in processed food could significantly improve the health of the population, the detrimental change in flavour presents a major challenge as consumers generally find low salt products unacceptable.’

She adds that ‘high concentrations’ of low-molecular dextrans could be used to enhance the consumer’s perception of salt in ‘unseasoned’ foods.

The Food Standards Agency is currently running a campaign to cut salt consumption and has set targets for the food industry to reduce salt use by up to half by 2012.

Dextran is a starch-like molecule that is made by certain types of bacteria found in dental plaque.

It is also used medically as a way of reducing blood clotting.

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