Salt. Until the last few decades, it had a solid seat at our dining tables amongst other staple condiments like pepper and tomato ketchup, which we wouldn’t think much about using. Nowadays, it seems to be public health enemy number one, rivalled only by sugar.
The Romans held salt with such high regard that at one point it was deemed as valuable as a currency, and used to pay soldiers. As our civilisation developed, so did our culinary practices, and salt soon became a staple ingredient in a huge amount of dishes. That is, until a body of research emerged in the 1960s, linking salt with high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and even early death.
The reach of this research grew and grew, culminating in the early 2000s, where many action groups and government agencies lobbied to drastically cut down the salt intake of the general population. Further attacks on salt followed, such as the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN)’s 2002 report which highlighted the link between high levels of salt in the diet and high blood pressure. People who had high blood pressure were three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. As a result, consumers were heavily advised to avoid or restrict their intake of food products such as formed ham, gravy granules, bacon, cheese, salted and dry-roasted nuts, stock cubes, crisps, mayonnaise, and pasta sauces.
In light of the claims surrounding salt, the NHS set the recommended daily allowance of salt to 6g. Despite this, there are foods which contain almost as much as this in one product. For example, pot noodles have 4.5g of salt, a 225g deep crispy pizza could around 4.1g, and a 200ml can of soup, 2.2g of salt – something many anti-salt campaigners and action groups have pledged action on.
However, is salt really the villain we’ve been led to believe it is?
In August 2018, a study by researchers at McMasters University in Ontario turned the subject on its head, finding that actually, salt isn’t so bad. In fact, a diet too low in salt could actually be as harmful as a high intake – and a moderate intake of salt can actually be protective against illnesses and heart attacks. Further, those who might perhaps go slightly over the recommended daily allowance of 5-6g a day can easily counteract this with an otherwise healthy diet and regular exercise.
Although the conversation on salt is becoming more positive, this isn’t to say unlimited intake should be promoted. In products particularly high in salt, and for those whose diet is excessively high, there is certainly room for salt ‘replacers’, such as potassium. Potassium, again, should be consumed in moderation much like salt, but has been found to be effective in replacing salt in many excessively high-sodium foods. Like sodium, this also has its own health benefits when consumed in moderation.
Another recent study, published this in the Lancet Medical Journal this year by Canadian Academics, found there are greater health benefits in diets that are rich in potassium than there are in aggressively trying to reduce sodium (The Guardian).
This ties in with an increasing consumer awareness about what we are eating, and growing suspicion towards cutting out or drastically limiting food groups. Consumers are increasingly knowledgeable, and after decades of being told to avoid salt, avoid fat, avoid dairy and other perceived ‘culprits’, the old adage ‘everything in moderation’ is once again rearing its head. It’s true, salt is an ingredient that should no longer be feared, albeit one which should still be treated with caution.
What is your verdict on the salt war? Contact Hamish at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on +44 (0) 1803 203387.