The food industry and salt : a real menace for our hearts

rayon_supermarcheA study by the Agence nationale de la sécurité sanitaire (a French governmental body that monitors food safety) has shown that there has not been enough progress on reducing the salt content of certain products.  The agency has found that in fact most French citizens’ salt intake is much higher than that recommended by the Programme national nutrition santé (PNNS – a national program which aims to promote healthier eating), which was launched by the government in 2011. This recommends an intake of no more than 8 grams of salt per day on average for men and 6.5 grams daily for women and children. However, the World Health Organization’s guidelines recommend that adults and children alike should consume no more than 5 grams of salt a day.

However, despite the urgings of public health bodies, the agri-food industry is still going heavy on the salt. The reasons behind this are financial and the stakes are very high indeed. It is widely acknowledged that salt artificially boosts the weight of certain products and thus their value, if they are sold by weight. Furthermore, salt  is a cheap flavour enhancer which helps mask the blandness of many processed, mass-produced foods, as well as being an aid to colour development in food.  For example, a slice of ham owes its pink colour to the curing salt it contains – without this the ham would be the same greyish shade as roast pork. Salt also helps stop vegetables from turning brown. Another consideration for the food industry is that a decrease in the average daily intake of salt from 11 to 6 grams would have a knock-on effect on the volume of liquids drunk per day in the shape of a reduction of 330 ml per day per person (the equivalent of a standard drinks can). This could have a major impact on the bottled water market.

At the end of the day, if we could cut the quantity of salt contained in processed food by 50%, we could halve the number of people suffering from high blood pressure. According to the « Intersalt » study, 3.5 million of the 7 million French people currently affected by high blood pressure would see their blood pressure drop to normal levels without any medical treatment of any kind in the event of such a reduction in the salt levels of processed foods. At the present time, with the exception of baby foods, there are no legal requirements in place that would force the agri-food industry to change their attitudes towards the use of salt, although some industry members have pledged to voluntarily reduce their products’ salt content.

These good intentions are just not enough, especially given the irrefutable evidence we have of the harmful effects of salt upon cardiac health.