The use of salt by food manufacturers has met with increased criticism from consumer groups and health organisations attesting that too much salt can raise blood pressure, leading to a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.
But in the US, the Salt Institute is charging that findings from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded study - DASH-Sodium Trial - are being selectively used.
"The DASH-Sodium results show that improving dietary quality improves blood pressure and that salt intake is unimportant for the population at large, though it may be important for older people suffering high blood pressure. But that's not what NHLBI claims from the results," said Salt Institute president Richard Hanneman.
Health policy should be based on science, not politics, he added.
said Salt Institute president Richard L. Hanneman. The case charges that the NHLBI "illegally refused to make available full, accurate, and transparent documentation" of the DASH-Sodium Trial results.
The use of salt is a contentious issue and one that has attracted the attention of stakeholders in society today. Last year the UN-backed World Health Organisation (WHO) released, to criticism from the US food industry in particular, a global strategy on diet, physical Activity and health that called for a limit in the consumption of saturated and trans fats and salt in the diet.
In the UK, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) launched a 'pinch of salt' campaign last year to cut the use of salt by consumers and a report from the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) advocated a reduction in salt use by the food industry, a position reinforced by recent comments from Sir John Krebs, chairman of the UK's food safety body, the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
"Consumers...cannot change the amount (of salt) in processed foods...which is the highest proportion of our salt intake. This is the clear responsibility of the (food) industry."
Acting on consumer concerns in May 2003, the UK's Food and Drink Federation announced an industry wide programme to reduce salt - or more precisely sodium - in breakfast cereals. The British Retail Consortium has also set out a major five-year programme designed to bring levels of salt down to 0.7g/100g within that time - although this is still higher than the lower limit of the Food Standards Agency.
But new research released this week from the UK's Consumers' Association (CA) magazine, Which?, claims that despite the pledges many of the big brand breakfast cereals on supermarket shelves in the UK still contain excessive levels of sugar, salt and fat.
Which? investigated 100 cereal brands produced by the five biggest cereal manufacturers (Quaker, Weetabix, Nestle, Kellogg's, Jordans) to see whether their healthy image was really justified. Its findings showed that 85 per cent of them contained 'a lot of sugar' (10g or more per 100g), 9 per cent contained 'a lot' of saturated fat (20g/100g) and 40 per cent contained 'a lot' of salt (0.5g of sodium/100g).
According to Which? cereals marketed to children were particularly marked. Of the 28 cereals investigated by the Consumers' Association, some 64 per cent contained 'a lot' of salt.
Back to the US, and staunchly defending the industry, Hanneman from the Salt Institute added this week. "By mischaracterising this important study[Dash], NHLBI is making it impossible for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to understand that its focus should be on improving the quality of the American diet, not demonising certain foods or nutrients."