Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Below the salt

Ban the salt cellar! So says today's press at least. Why well it just so happens to be National Salt Awareness Week which in the way of these things is concentrating its focus this year on 'Salt and Children' - Ban salt or kiddies will die. And these demands come from that splendid body the World Cancer Research Fund International who have helpfully not only called for our tables to be salt free but also provided a couple of recipes for our dinning pleasure.
But hold does the science to these demands hold up, and where do these demands actually come from?
Step forward, you guessed it the European Commission. This is what they have to say in their press release on White Paper on Nutrition from May of last year,
EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "The rise of obesity makes improving the diets and physical activity levels of Europeans a top public health priority for the EU in the years ahead. If we don't act, today's overweight children will be tomorrow's heart attack victims. What consumers eat is up to them, but they should be able to make informed choices, and have a range of healthy options to choose from. That is why the Commission is reviewing the options for nutrition labelling, and calling on industry to advertise responsibly and reduce levels of salt, fats and sugar in food products."
This is all part of the EU's well known strategy of locking onto consumer protection as a way to get themselves loved. How what I eat has anything to do with them is anybodies guess, but I suppose the idea is that if they convince enough people that they can be mummy then we will learn to love them. After all adults cannot be trusted to make decisions for themselves, that is the job of experts. (And looking at the focus on children, maybe parents cannot be trusted so experts should take over parenting... Oh bugger that is already happening in a plethora of different ways, why should salt intake be any different?)
But I digress. As you can see we have evidence of an EU policy on salt. Check.We have an Independent Cancer Charity supporting them, Check. Now lets have a look at that independent charity.
Well what do you know they are in receipt of EU funds from the EPIC budget which is turn "received substantial financial support from the Europe Against Cancer Program of the European Commission".

So you know the score,
Commission has policy
Para-governmental organisation-PGO (in this case the World Cancer Research
Fund International) receives taxpayers money through EU grant.
PGO puts out press release demanding Government action.
Government supports policy.
Commission gets support for extending its reach.
Commission extends policy
EU funds PGO.... and so on.

At no point in this little merry-go round does the fact that the EU is funding all this reach the press.

But hold on, if the research proved that eating more than the recommended daily dose of 6 grams of salt a day was bad for your health, then surely the Commission, the PGO and the government are doing the right thing.
So lets look at the research, and here I have to bow my head to Sandy Szwarc whose work here is invaluable.
while there have been more than 17,000 studies published on salt and blood pressure since 1966, none has shown population-wide health benefits from low-sodium diets, although some select subgroups of people appear to respond. According to Dr. David Klurfeld, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, “the better controlled studies fail to show a significant benefit on blood pressure for large groups with sodium restriction.”
And it gets better.According to Michael Alderman President of the International Society of Hypertension pointed out in 2006,
"the contention that salt restriction will reduce cardiovascular risk is an argument of hope over reason".
More recently researchers at Wageningen University in The Netherlands stated that,
"The effect of sodium and potassium intake on CVD morbidity and mortality in Western societies remains to be established.”
So the fact that there is no solid evidence that high salt intakes increase death rates (though there is some evidence that in creases hypertension- blood pressure - but that does not indicate greater death rates in the general population) should at least give our governors pause for thought before they push on with policies that change our lifestyles, and of course cost millions.
But that is not all. Is it ever? There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that lowering salt rates may indeed be positively unhealthy.

The European Society of Cardiology Guidelines for the Management of Arterial Hypertension, for instance, reported recent research showing low-salt diets can have negative effects: activating the rennin-angiotensin system and the sympathetic nervous system, increasing insulin resistance and hypodehydration (especially with the elderly). This, they concluded, could lead to increased risks for cardiovascular disease.

Shouldn't that give them pause for thought. Nah, of course not. The elite know best. So it is of to Siberia to you who consider that there are worse things in life than a salt cellar on the dining room table.

Of and one last thing. Why do we use salt in the first place?

Salt also improves the flavor of many nourishing foods, helping to prevent nutritional deficiencies especially among vulnerable populations, such as children and elderly. It does more than make many of the foods we love taste good. Salt has served invaluable roles in food preparation and preservation, baking, culturing cheese, and making our food safer to eat since the earliest days of mankind. Salt reductions could jeopardize these benefits, at costs to health, safety and enjoyment of foods.
It is of course also invaluable in those parts of the world where the cost of refrigeration is high. But I guess it would be better if the poor eat rotten food.


Anonymous said...

What is hypodehydration? There is no definition of the word in any medical dictionary I know of. There is hypohydration (commonly known as dehydration) and hyperhydration (water intoxication).

Captain fatty

Georges said...

Definitely a post worth it's salt....

Anonymous said...

Some discussion of lower bounds would be useful, too. If you don't eat salt you die. Have the health commissars not noticed this? Will they accept responsibility for the children who die because their parents deprive them of salt? There are people who listen to civil servants spouting nonsense, you know.