Fuss about food – Salt

Bowl of saltSalt plays a vital role in our lives, regulating fluid movement in our bodies and maintaining nerve signals. When we begin to suffer from salt deficiency, we experience muscular weakness, exhaustion and dehydration.

Salt is essential but extremely overused.

Are you one of the 26 million people in the UK who eat too much of it? We are a nation of crisp lovers – a double whammy of fat and salt makes them one of the unhealthiest snacks available.

Overuse of salt also leads to serious health problems: we are sure you know the warnings about its effect on heart health and blood pressure. It is also linked to higher risk of stroke.

Even if you are one of the saintly ones who do not put any salt on their food at the dinner table you are probably still eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already added to our food.

Look at the ingredients labels next time you go to the supermarket – how many labels tell you there is salt added? This is the case even with sweet products. It is added for flavour purposes, as perhaps a cheaper alternative to other spices; Salt is a cheap ingredient, like sugar, and also like sugar, is not needed in such high amounts.

Some experts think the only way to really reduce our intake is to impose a mandatory curb on dietary salt.

In fact, imposing statutory limits on the salt content of processed foods could be 20 times more effective than voluntary curbs by industry, finds research published online in the journal Heart.

The Australian researchers, from the University of Queensland, assessed the public health benefits and cost effectiveness of different strategies for reducing dietary salt content. They looked at the current Australian ‘Tick’ programme which enables food manufacturers to buy an endorsed logo for use on product packaging to achieve higher sales in return for voluntarily reducing the salt content of these products.

They also looked at the impact of mandatory reductions in salt content; and professional advice to cut dietary salt for those at increased and high risk of cardiovascular disease.

They then evaluated the different strategies in terms of their impact on years of good health over a lifetime, and the associated savings in long term healthcare spend.

The researchers took into consideration the salt content of bread, margarine, and cereals; the tonnage of product sold; average consumption per head of these products; the costs of drafting and enforcing legislation; and systematic reviews of the evidence for the impact of dietary advice from healthcare professionals.

Their calculations showed that 610,000 years of healthy life could be gained if everyone reduced their salt intake to recommended limits (maximum of 6 g a day).

It was found that providing dietary advice to reduce salt intake was not cost effective even when targeting those with heart disease.

A voluntary reduction of salt by industry amounted to a reduction of 1% in the population.

But the health benefits across the population could be 20 times greater if the government imposed mandatory limits, the figures showed, amounting to a reduction of 18% in ill health from cardiovascular disease.

The authors conclude that food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society. If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate.

If you want to read about research similar to this, the link to the Heart Journal is below…