Salt reduction

MacGregor: Why salt reduction is vital

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Salt intake Atherosclerosis

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St
George's University of London, tells FoodNavigator why the salt
content of food must be reduced.

MacGregor, who spoke recently at this month's Vitafoods conference in Geneva, argues that the European food industry is in a unique position to improve consumer health.

"The underlying cause for the vast majority of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure, is narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis),"​ he told FoodNavigator.

"This is caused by raised blood pressure, smoking, and raised cholesterol due to a high saturated fat intake. Blood pressure is the most important risk factor for disease of the arteries.

"The major reason why blood pressure is raised is due to our high salt intake."

MacGregor claims that the evidence​ for this is overwhelming, and comes from a diverse range of sources. He says that government agencies and stroke and heart foundation societies have all recommended cutting salt intake by half, including the WHO which recommends no more than 5 grams of salt intake per day for every adult in the world.

"Current intake in Europe varies between 10 and 15 grams/day,"​ he said. "Reducing salt intake would cause huge reductions in strokes and heart attacks."

An estimated 80 per cent of salt is consumed through the consumption of processed food. From MacGregor's point of view therefore, the food industry has the opportunity to make an enormous difference.

"In the UK this is no longer a debate,"​ he said. "Reports, independent of us (MacGregor is chairman of the pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health), are clear in their recommendations that salt intake should be reduced. The UK's Specialist Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which advises the FSA, says that, at a start, consumers should reduce their consumption to 6g a day.

"Not a single food company in the UK disagrees with this, or certainly, I haven't heard of any. The only people who disagree with this are the salt manufacturers."

He said that the current programme of salt reduction in the UK is something that should be copied elsewhere in Europe. What's more, he claims that there have been no consumer complaints.

"There are commercial reasons why the food industry needs salt,"​ he said. "It makes cheap, tasteless food edible, and you can add more water to products because it acts as a binder. It also makes you thirsty."

The Institute of Food Science and Technology wrote in an Information Statement a few years ago that "if salt reduction is achieved without compromising microbiological safety, no part of the population would be disadvantaged by it, as those who find certain reduced-salt manufactured foods les palatable have the freedom to add table salt 'to taste' before consumption.

"Recognising that in science, and especially nutrition/health controversies, nothing can ever be conclusively 'proven', one has to make the best judgement possible at the time."

For MacGregor, that would mean establishing salt reduction targets throughout Europe with the objective of halving current European consumption levels of salt.

To hear Robert Speiser give the other side of the salt debate, click here​.

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