We add comments based on better experience with an Assalt course of many year ago to assist the Food Standards Agency's proposals to return to campaign to reduce intakes of dietary salts.
Re: Proposed targets for levels of salt in key food categories that contribute most to intakes
Our website and numerous consultations with the FSA and MAFF (now DEFRA), the FSA’s predecessor, indicate our long-term interest in the effects of dietary salt intakes on health, at least as they apply to most European populations (oriental cuisines seem high in salt content without the harm that would be expected in European contexts).
Our concern for dietary salt was stimulated by a campaign for Real Bread that we launched in 1976 as an offshoot of our research-based Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land and corollaries that arose from the emphasis on cereal-derived foods, of which breads were major components.
Although we had some success, we applaud the FSA’s urgency, if belated, on the subject and endorse the initiatives it is now pursuing. Without further recitals of all the details in our consultations we draw attention to the following factors.
1. We set great store on education and stimulation of the responsibilities of parents, teachers, and manufacturers, using freely offered information without creating undue precision in data, like many in nutritional matters, that have to be on a near-enough-for-jazz feel for the statistics. Cooks know that they have to judge for themselves the settings for ovens, microwaves, and toasters that may not agree precisely with the manufacturers’ exact figures. Data should be prominent on labels and on menus and recipes published in restaurants and in books, newspapers, and magazines. As part of our Green Planning we produced nutritionally-assessed menus and recipes as Dayplans for a week’s recommended consumption, in which the sodium/potassium ratio was emphasized to allow for the balancing effects of fruit and vegetables. We also urged on manufacturers, cooks, and caterers the potential in flavourings other than salt. Some of this enterprise was exemplified in several publications, notably in a book published by the Sunday Times for the Campaign for Real Bread. Since then low-salt condiments have been usefully developed, redressing the sodium content with balancing amounts of potassium and magnesium.
2. We wish the latest material from the FSA took a more educative style, involving consumers and cookery-writers more effectively. Many foods, especially of animal origin, contain high levels of salt as preservatives and texturizing agents and we question whether the craving for salt is developed at an earlier age, like the sweet tooth. Breast milk is sweet but not salty; however, Marmite soldiers are a favourite food for infants, and Marmite imparts a very salty taste. We have pleaded with manufacturers and retailers to offer lo-salt versions of yeast-extracts but without success in the main trade; we can, however, commented to the FSA exemplary enterprise in this connection in the health-food market. Soup cubes were other objects attracting complaint in our Assalt course.
3. We have drawn attention in other consultations with the FSA on the confusion prevailing in the UK over the consumption at table and in manufactured foods, some of which (being imported) may contain iodized salt, and the important corollaries in thyroid function. Information from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) emphasizes the special importance of iodine status in adolescent girls and in the satisfactory completion of pregnancies and development of the babies’ brains. Thyroid function is also involved in maintaining healthy hearts and bones. In most European countries and in the USA common salt is iodized. We have developed elsewhere reconciliation of means off raising dietary iodide intakes with efforts at achieving lowered consumption of salt and thus of allaying confusion among consumers and manufacturers of foods.
4. Preparation should be made to follow the redoubled campaign on dietary salt by epidemiological studies based in a set start and end-points or bio-markers. The NDNS and its successor might suffice for this purpose. Useful information on iodide status might be gathered at the same time from urine analyses. Such a test with significant results was done a few years ago in Denmark.
5. Official and authoritative pronouncement must clarify for consumers the inclusions and exclusions in description of salt in domestic contexts, e.g. sea salt, Epsom salts, Glauber’s salts, and celery salt; and allowance must be made for workers, athletes, and member of the forces in tropical climes for stresses in persistently sweaty conditions.