The salt Wars Turn Nasty!


Most non-medical people I talk with about the possibility of salt restriction becoming mandatory seem to care less!

Many will tell you they use very little salt in their everyday cooking and home meals anyway, so they have no need of restricting it further. Even when you point out to them that it is currently recommended a person use less than 1 teaspoon of salt (5g) per day, they seem quite blasé – unconcerned as it were, indicating that ‘it seems a fair amount to use’ and that they would probably use no more than that each day.

To a large degree I fall into the abovementioned category, but possibly for different reasons than you would suppose.

I eat less than 1% of my weekly calories from processed foods. The 99% difference is because of food and lifestyle choices, personal preferences and ongoing dietary requirements due to health issues.

Far be for me to suggest that Our Government is ‘penny pinching yet again’ – In a study published in Heart today, Queensland researchers assessed the public health benefits and cost effectiveness of different strategies for reducing dietary salt content – a factor known to have a key role in the increased risk of heart disease and stroke. (article)

The above paragraph states that salt is a KNOWN factor in the increased risk of heart disease and stroke. I needed something in writing that would back up this statement, and found an article seemingly quite unbiased; it gives both side of the argument quite succinctly. But before I go there, I think it is most important to recognize that the real issue here is the amount of salt we consume, by way of the processed foods we purchase and perhaps the meals eaten away from home at take-a-ways and restaurants.

I seriously doubt that the majority of people who are pushing for lower salt consumption are actually threatening to put your salt grinder/shaker under lock and key.

There are always (at least) two sides in every debate, this salt war is no different.

Despite 100 years of study and debate, experts can’t seem to agree on a public policy of a dietary salt restriction for the general population. Does everybody really need to restrict their salt intake? The battle lines are fairly clear.

On one side are the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, the Institute of Medicine, and academic experts on hypertension whose careers have been based on funding from these organizations. These parties have long held that it is important to restrict dietary salt as a matter of public policy, for the purpose of reducing the incidence of hypertension worldwide. They cite scores of scientific studies bolstering their argument, and conclude that widespread salt restriction is the best public policy.

On the other side is the Salt Institute, the big manufacturers of processed foods, and other academic experts (whose careers have enjoyed funding from these sources). These parties cite scores of scientific studies bolstering their argument that widespread salt restriction would be bad public policy and possibly dangerous.

Both camps are entrenched, well-armed, and after over 30 years of fighting, battle-hardened.

As I said earlier there are two (if not more), definite sides to the argument, for and against salt restriction. If I were a cynical person I would hypothesize ‘follow the dollar’… who benefits from salt restriction, or salt promotion?

The Theory of General Salt Restriction – Pros and Cons

The theory that says that salt restriction would make good public policy is based on epidemiological studies (particularly, the Intersalt study), which suggest that restricting salt would lead to a small reduction in the average blood pressure of the population, sufficient to greatly reduce the incidence of hypertension, which, in turn, should reduce the incidence of heart disease and stroke.

Critics of such a public policy make two arguments. First, they point out that no actual study has ever been done showing that restricting salt in the general population would either reduce the population’s average blood pressure or improve the population’s outcomes. Second, they point out that sodium has many effects on physiology aside from controlling blood pressure, that several of these “other” effects of sodium restriction could be decidedly negative, and that in the past, other broad, population-wide recommendations made by overly confident “experts” have not turned out well. (They cite the recommendation for hormone replacement therapy for most postmenopausal women, the widespread introduction of man-made trans-fats into our food chain as a health measure, and, possibly, the widespread recommendation for high-carb, low-fat diets.)

Do All People Respond the Same to Dietary Salt?

No. Some people appear to be “salt sensitive,” which means that increased salt intake tends to either increase their blood pressure, “stiffen” their blood vessels, or both. Salt sensitivity probably occurs in 10 – 20% of the population, and is thought to be related to genetic factors, race, age, body mass, and fitness level. These individuals indeed have a high incidence of hypertension.

Unfortunately, there is no routine or easy method of detecting whether an individual is salt sensitive – except to say that if you have hypertension, the odds that you also have salt sensitivity are pretty high. (This is why at least a trial of a salt-restricting diet is recommended in patients with hypertension.)

What About People Without Salt Sensitivity?

If everyone were salt sensitive, or if there were no medical downside to salt restriction in people who were not salt sensitive, then the only argument against recommending a population-wide policy of salt restriction would be an economic (or possibly political) one. Unfortunately, there are several ways that restricting salt might be detrimental to some people, at least in theory. This should not be particularly surprising, since sodium plays an extremely important role in many processes in our bodies, and not in just blood pressure control.

Sodium, just as one example, plays an important role in regulating the renin/angiotensin system (an extremely important hormonal pathway that helps regulate blood pressure, fluid balance, kidney function, vascular tone, and probably a few other things). Restricting sodium intake increases renin levels, which can have numerous adverse effects in people who are not salt sensitive. Indeed, in some people, blood pressure actually increases with sodium restriction.

As I mentioned earlier there are definitely differing opinions and strategies at play in the Salt War. Who is right?

Where are the Double Blind Placebo Controlled Studies which are considered the best and most reliable form of research. A treatment cannot really be said to be proven effective unless it has been examined in properly designed and sufficiently large studies of this type.

Well of course none have as yet been done, none have been published in Peer Reviewed Journals where they can be properly scrutinized and reported upon.

What you do find though are articles, such as the one I discovered in a blog for Doctors today which tells the medics“Telling people to cut down on salt will not curb heart disease, and efforts should instead focus on imposing mandatory salt reductions on food manufacturers, Australian research shows.” (emphasis mine)

The article assumes that teaching people about good health and nutrition is a waste of time, and all processed foods should have a restriction on the amount of salt contained in them.

I will agree wholeheartedly that people need to be taught exactly what is in the foodstuffs they are consuming (dangers and benefits). Not everyone has the time or the mental acuity to read the tiny print on the food nutrition labels. Not everyone has a degree in science to be able to translate the chemical names on these labels into plain English. Sadly most people believe their government when a food has been approved by them as safe for consumption by the general public.

Generally speaking I try to teach my family and friends that if you cannot spell it or pronounce it, then don’t put it into your body. I am not the only person who adheres to this philosophy: If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then neither should you, award-winning writer Michael Pollan is wont to say. He shares additional tips on how to eat for a healthier body and planet, the focus of his latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

The salt that adds up detrimentally in your daily diet is not necessarily what you put onto a meal from the salt grinder/shaker after sitting down to eat. It is all the hidden extras you probably would not suspect in the foods you eat regularly. They are the hidden ingredients – NOT because they are invisible on the food labels, but because we do not look for them (be honest now do you read food labels all the time?), and we simply do not expect them to be included in the foods we purchase.

Everything you purchase at the supermarket that is not in the fresh food isle, as in fruits, vegetables and fresh meats etc, is a processed food. Processed food is where the salt has been added and the goodness of the original food diminished.

Too much of anything can be bad for you and I personally believe too much processed food wrecks your health. It is not only the salt and other food chemicals that have been added for flavor and preserving the food, (so it has a longer shelf life), you need to consider the mix of various chemicals in the foods you are eating. Most of them are unnatural synthetic and toxic (yes poison) to the human body.

In the United Kingdom they have done a survey (I suspect you could find this information for your own country on the internet) looking at some common, store bought foods. They have compared different brands of similar foods, and shown that if you read labels carefully, you can reduce the amount of (in this case) salt you are consuming every day from processed items.

The Food Standards Agency recently conducted a survey to compare salt levels in 23 commonly bought products from 10 major retailers plus a branded version of each product.

The 23 items were products such as pizzas, beef burgers, tomato ketchup, ready meals, and digestive biscuits so that a reasonable idea of how much salt there is in an average shopping basket could be ascertained.

The agency found there were huge differences between many similar products. For example, Iceland Chicken Tikka Massala and Pilau Rice contained 0.4g of salt per 100g and 2g in a 500g packet, whereas the Waitrose equivalent contained nearly 0.9g salt per 100g and 4.4g in a 500g portion. Bearing in mind that your recommended daily amount is 6g, that’s 73% gone in just one meal.

Another product that varied significantly in salt levels was Baked Beans. Heinz Baked Beans contained the lowest salt level with 1.8g in a 200g tin. However, the same amount of Kwik Save, Somerfield or Morrisons beans would give you 3g of salt, so that’s half your recommended daily amount from just half of an average sized tin of beans.

Tomato based pasta sauces also had large differences in salt quantities. Marks and Spencer’s version contained by far the most at 2g per 100g, two and a half times the amount of the lowest in salt, Asda’s sauce with just 0.8 per 100g. (source)

I know I have waffled on considerably with this particular blog, but I feel it is most important not to allow the government to dictate what we can and should eat.

It would be far more beneficial if they put into law something to make manufacturers write in plain English what is actually in the foods they try and sell to us. Another wish of mine is to include in the High School Curriculum a segment on real nutrition. Teaching the younger generation about additives and food chemicals and processes which denude the processed foods we are consuming.

If you shop exclusively around the perimeter of the supermarket, for fresh fruits and vegetables and meats and dairy, avoiding packet mixed, tinned foods and frozen meals, you will be doing your body a huge favour, and in turn, no doubt it will honour you with much better health in the long term.

And if you are like me, and enjoy a grinding of salt on your evening meal, consider learning the difference between supermarket table salt and Himalayan Salt &Celtic Sea Salt. One is highly processed and bleached and denuded of vital minerals and chemicals, while the others are a good, healthy, natural additive you can trust.

Till next time, don’t allow ‘them’ to bully you…… be as well as you can and learn, learn, learn about your body and the foods you put into it.

About JustMEinT Musings

I like writing, reading and expressing my opinions. I prefer natural health and healing to pharmaceutical drugs. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour.
This entry was posted in Blood Pressure, Healthy Food, Industry Shenanigans, Salt, Unhealthy Food and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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