Tuesday, June 10, 2003

A pinch of salt

Many ready meals eaten by children contain salt levels that would be harmful to adults, says the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Ready meals are convenient, acknowledges FSA head Sir John Krebs - 'but our survey shows that many have very high levels of salt in them, leaving little room for the salt we take in from other foods such as bread and cereals'. The FSA says high salt intakes can lead to health problems in later life as a result of elevated blood pressure.

However, the link between salt intake and blood pressure is more controversial than such advice suggests. A recent report in the British Medical Journal concluded: 'Intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programmes, provide only small reductions in blood pressure and sodium excretion, and effects on deaths and cardiovascular events are unclear. Advice to reduce sodium intake may help people on antihypertensive drugs to stop their medication while maintaining good blood pressure control.'

In short, if you've already got high blood pressure, reducing salt intake might help your hypertension. Otherwise, your salt intake probably isn't having much effect. On the other hand, the thought of feeding your children something harmful might send your blood pressure up a notch or two.

It would be better for the authorities to devote their energies to treating the sick than worrying parents with health warnings of dubious relevance. And parents should take such pronouncements with a pinch of the white stuff.

Parents warned over ready meals salt, BBC News, 10 June 2003
Systematic review of long term effects of advice to reduce dietary salt in adults, British Medical Journal, 21 September 2002 [pdf, 320KB]

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