This week in the UK is National Salt Awareness Week 2007! Not that you’d notice it. Compared to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) high-profile campaigns of recent years that have included billboards and TV advertising, the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), who organised this initiative, seem to be playing it fairly low key.
But maybe that’s the point. The issue that CASH has chosen to focus on throughout National Salt Awareness Week is not so much on improving our awareness of salt, but on the progress that has been made over the past ten years. It would seem that the promotion is working and the message is starting to sink in with consumers and food processors alike.
Do we all know how much salt we should be having? If you said ‘no more than 6 grams per day’, then well done – you got the message. But do you know how much you need to avoid a sodium deficiency? Yes, salt is a necessary part of our diet, but because it is so ubiquitous in nature (it’s even in fruit), it really is quite easy to ingest the 100 mg sodium per day needed to body’s water balance, thermal regulation, intercellular communication and, paradoxically. blood pressure in working order. That’s around 2.5 grams of salt per day.
However, unlike saturated fat and other dietary dangers, salt does play an active role in metabolism and it has had a starring role in the human species’ development. Salting was one of the earliest forms of preserving meat and fish, for example, alongside drying and smoking. In fact, evolution has also endowed us with a taste for it. This is the reason that the food industry hasn’t obviously jumped on the salt-reducing bandwagon in the way that it has, say, with fat. Removing all the additional salt from packaged foods overnight would have us turning our backs on the supermarkets in our millions with a chorus of ‘yuck!’ Food without any salt is just not that appealing to our adapted tastebuds.
What the industry is doing, though, is a natural economic response to consumers’ increasing awareness of what’s in food and to the requirement that all packaged foods come equipped with nutritional information labels. The salt levels in processed foods are being reduced gradually. Anyone who wants to test out this promise should start saving labels and see if this actually happens over the next few years.
So, while I won’t be rushing down to the canteen just before lunchtime and hiding all the salt pots this week, I will be trying to mine some salty gems from the CAB abstracts database and serving them to you in healthy portions. Just to taste.