Salt health risks that you can AVOID

The Good Life Letter

Sunday 24th July 2011

  • Can you be trusted to make your own decisions about food?
  • Nanny doesn't always know best.
  • Discover the TRUTH about salt health risks

Today is the first of two letters about basic nutrition - because I can no longer hold my tongue.  We are being played like fools. The goings on at the News of the World aside, our media deserves a pasting for their flagrant disregard of the truth about health and wellbeing.
I am well aware that the UK has a problem with our diet - how could I not when one in four UK adults, and one in ten of our children are classed as obese?

It's not just the fat though. Salt health risks are getting serious too.

We are the fatties of Europe. These statistics are the products of a failure of common sense compounded by confusing information from health advisers, watchdogs and governments.
So, let me ask you three simple questions:

1. Can you be trusted to wake up every day and decide what you would like to eat?

2. Are you able to tell the difference between lettuce and lard?

3. Do you like to vary your diet, making sure that you avoid only eating chips?

I thought so.

The Nanny State and Salt

So, to the first of my topics - salt.

Our media seems to swing from one extreme to the other, and never comes to rest in the common sense middle ground. It is all about the shock factor rather than the truth.

In one newspaper alone their headlines have run from digestive biscuits having too much salt in them (May 2011); the 'fact' that salt is as addictive as cocaine (July 2011) to the latest about there being no link between low salt diets and health (July 2011).

Anybody confused?

The latest research was by a team from Exeter University, who found that a decrease in dietary salt does not prevent heart attacks & strokes, in fact they concluded that such a reduction could actually harm anyone suffering from a heart condition.

Which on the face of it makes for a big story doesn't it? The headline read: "Cutting back on salt does not make you healthier"

There is a lot more to this story although I suspect no-one is going to tell it.

As expected the anti-salt lobby has been quick to condemn this information saying that the research was flawed.  When you have PR savvy spokespeople with a vested interest, it will only be the headline grabbing stuff which makes the news.

All we want is reliable, accurate and useful advice - are we asking too much?

The TRUTH about dietary salt

The first truth is the real big one. We NEED salt in our diet.

Often overlooked in the scramble to make a point is the fact that Sodium Chloride is a basic requirement for several major functions in our bodies, plus the traces of iodine, magnesium and calcium contained in the mineral are also important for us.

  • The digestive acid in our stomachs is based on chlorine; salt helps us break down our food.
  • Too little salt in our diet weakens teeth & bones.
  • Our hearts need salt to help regulate the rhythm, as well as it helping to reduce blood pressure.
  • Salt is vital to establish effective fluid dynamics in our tissues, muscles and kidneys.

The problem isn't having salt in our diet it's the way we CONSUME it.

I like nothing more than some freshly boiled new potatoes straight from the garden with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt over them.  Or a pinch of pink Himalayan salt on my salads to make them sing.

And here's the thing. I am in control of my salt. I know where it all came from and how it was prepared.

Sadly, that's not the case with a supermarket meal that uses salt to create taste and texture.  The margins are better that way.  But just how much salt and preservatives are in this meal? Just how much control does a busy parent have over the diet she is giving her kids?

Mum might go to Iceland, but she is feeding her kids on a salt mine. A very profitable salt mine.

Profits that go to the manufacturer, the retailer and the government in taxes.

Our 'Nanny State' tells us not to eat too much salt yet won't force corporate food producers to remove the stuff from ready meals, snacks, baked goods - even your morning bowl of corn flakes! They are allowed to lie and mislead us - common sense just doesn't stand a chance.

And guess what...salt is not the ONLY factor in this story. Those of us who do follow a low salt diet tend to exercise more, eat less fat and more fruit.

THAT was the main finding of the Exeter University research.

The story was never about the level of salt on it's own, but the fact that a high salt diet tends to go hand in hand with poor quality nutrition, an over reliance on alcohol and a higher incidence of smoking. Salt in diet is just one element of good health.

We all know that, and always have.

What we need is for an end to hidden salt in the foods we buy, our children to be taught how to cook healthy meals and for simple, honest advice to be given.

On Sunday I want to talk about water...I think you might guess where that one is going.

Yours as always,

Ray Collins
The Good Life Letter

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