But an ability to change our tastes, even if over time, is what the health experts are banking on, and some manufacturers are already working on it—including a company called Owater, which has developed sports beverages that meet the low-sugar criteria. "You can adjust the palate," says Tom First, Owater's founder and CEO. "Our drinks teach your mouth a different level of sweetness," he says. "And after people get accustomed to something less sweet, when they go back and drink their old favorite, they say, 'Oh my goodness, it's so sweet,' " he says. Beverage Spectrum Magazine reports that the "healthful alternative[s] to sugar-laden drinks" category is growing.
Salt is tougher than sugar to simply remove from foods. "It's not just a taste enhancer or deliverer," says Jane Anders, vice president of research and development at ConAgra Foods, which is working to cut 20 percent of the salt in its products between 2006 and 2015. Salt also plays a key role in preservation for meat-containing products, binds ingredients, and affects texture and color. "If you just take the sodium out, at best you end up with a product that doesn't taste [good], and in the worst case, you lose preservation qualities," she says. The company is using four basic technologies to meet its goals: sodium reduction by stealth or a gradual reduction over time, as with Hunt's tomatoes; a proprietary, "micronsalt" (because it's ultrafine, not as much is required to get the same taste), used in Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn; sodium flavor replacements used in Kid Cuisine mac and cheese; and sea salt, which requires less for the same taste as regular salt, used in Chef Boyardee Mini-Bites. Other companies, including Campbell Soup, are also working to reduce salt—though plenty of others are still dragging their feet, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said in December.
Want to try your own sweet and salt reduction campaign? Scan packaged food labels for lower-sodium or lower-sugar offerings, and cook with fresh food that doesn't already include a lot of salt and added sugar. Cheung advises you to be adventurous and try new flavors: coconut, ginger, sesame, curry, passion fruit, tarragon, and rosemary, for instance. "When you have ingredients like that on your palate, the levels of sweetness and saltiness aren't the centerpiece."
[Related: why you should care which foods are surprisingly high in added sugar.]