Salt: the new Tobacco?

The UK Department of Health announced this week that the salt reduction programme introduced ten years ago is working. The average Brit consumes 1.5g less salt a day. With an average daily intake of 8.1g there is still some way to go to reach the target of 6.0g, but estimates suggest that around 8.500 lives are being saved as a result of this reduction.

Or are they….?

Not everyone agrees that salt is bad for your health in the first place. The generally accepted wisdom is that too much salt increases blood pressure which is largely responsible for many strokes and heart attacks. There is plenty of science to back this up, many can be found here on the CASH (Consensus Action for Salt and Health) website. There are also many voices disputing this in the UK, the USA and around the world.

For example, this article in Scientific American published last year summarises the doubts, saying there is no significant increase in stroke risk for people of normal and high blood pressure and that the link between salt consumption and heart attacks has always been tenuous.

Half-listening to a radio programme featuring Professor Graham MacGregor – chairman of CASH and professor of cardiovascular medicine – I was surprised to hear that salt is a highly controversial substance. The programme was supposed to be about how restaurants and fast-food outlets could do more to reduce salt levels in their products. It turned into a heated debate about the validity of the research linking salt to health problems. Many accusations were thrown which had the familiar ring of the “smoking does/does not cause lung cancer” debates: the salt industry is rich and powerful – the research is not independent; the data has not been interpreted accurately; there is no causal link between salt intake and heart attacks….

For now however most national governments and the World Health Organisation are on the side of Professor MacGregor and salt reduction.

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