A group of scientists are challenging the now conventional wisdom that a low-sodium diet is better for your long-term health, asking whether people should take official advice on the matter with a pinch of salt.
In a new review of the evidence, a team of experts from Columbia University found there were “two distinct bodies of scholarship” on the matter – those who believe reducing salt intake will improve the overall health of the population, and those who don’t.
Watching your salt intake has become one of the core pieces of dietary advice in the UK in recent years, and in the US it has got to the point where New York is requiring by law that restaurants label salt content in their food.
So it will be a surprise to many to find that just 54 per cent of the 269 academic reports included in the review found in favour of a salt reduction hypothesis.
Of the rest, a sizeable 33 per cent came to the conclusion that reducing salt makes no difference to long-term health, while 13 per cent were inconclusive.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of evidence linking salt intake to high blood pressure over time.
But, report co-author Ludovic Trinquart told the New York Post: “We simply found no definitive proof that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks or strokes for people with normal blood pressure.”
The matter has come to a head in New York where, on Monday, a judge ordered a delay to the new labelling law which had been branded “arbitrary and capricious” by the National Restaurant Association.
But don’t expect public health advice on the matter to change in the UK any time soon.
Food trends in 2016
Food trends in 2016
1/11 Celeriac root
We had a kale obsession in 2015, but 2016’s vegetable sine qua non is predicted to be the knobbly celeriac root. Celeriac milk (Tom Hunt at Poco in Bristol serves it with winter mussels and wild water celery), celeriac cooked in Galician beef fat (from Adam Rawson of Pachamama, hot new chef in the capital) and salt-baked celeriac (to be found in Matthew and Iain Pennington’s kitchens at The Ethicurean in the West Country) are just a few examples.
2/11 Middle Eastern food
The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook (£24.95, Phaidon) by grand-dame Salma Hage, author of the bestseller The Lebanese Kitchen (whose halva is pictured here), is out in April
© Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton
3/11 Non-alcoholic cocktails
Grain Store mixologist Tony Conigliaro has created Roman Redhead, a riot of red grape juice, beetroot, pale ale and verjus, and Rose Iced Tea (black tea, rose petals, anise essence, pictured here)
The discerning will be slurping Hepple gin – from chef Valentine Warner and cocktail guru Nick Strangeway – which is punctuated with bog-myrtle nuances
5/11 Argyll and Bute
Restaurant followers are getting in a froth about Pam Brunton in Scotland, who opened the Inver restaurant in Argyll and Bute to acclaim last year
6/11 Andy Oliver’s Som Saa
One of the most eagerly awaited restaurants of 2016 will be the permanent incarnation of Andy Oliver’s remarkable pop-up Som Saa opening very soon in east London. Oliver, who worked at Thai god David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok, raised a whopping £700,000 through crowdfunding, and is renowned for his piquant Thai flavours and obsessive attention to detail, including in his home ferments and DIY coconut cream
© Adam Weatherley
Another ruminant in vogue is venison, with Sainsbury’s doubling its line for 2016. It provides a protein-packed punch, with B vitamins and iron, and it’s low in fat. Its entry into the mainstream is in part thanks to the Scottish restaurant Mac and Wild, just opened in London, whose Celtic head chef Andy Waugh (who also runs the Wild Game Co) has been touting it as street food for years (his venison burger pictured here)
From Brett Graham’s The Ledbury to Angela Hartnett’s kitchens at Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest, Cabrito is the go-to goat supplier among the chef cognoscenti (roasted loin of kid pictured here) – but this year, domestic cooks can get in on the action, as Sushila Moles and James Whetlor of Cabrito offer their meat through Ocado
Mike Lusmore / mikelusmore.com
Coffee sage George Crawford is launching the much-anticipated Cupsmith with his partner, Emma. Crawford believes that 2016 is the year purist coffee will finally meet the masses; Cupsmith’s mission will be to make craft coffee as popular as craft beer on the high street. The company roasts Arabica beans in small batches, improving its quality – but sells it online, at cupsmith.com, in an approachable way: expect cheerful packaging and names such as Afternoon Reviver Coffee (designed for drinking with milk – no matter how uncouth, most of us want milk) and Glorious Espresso
10/11 120-day-old steak
Hanging meat for extremely long lengths of time has become an art. In Cumbria, Lake Road Kitchen’s James Cross is plating up 120-day-old steak (pictured here). The beef is from influential “ager” Dan Austin of Lake District Farmers, who is currently investigating the individual bacterial cultures that go into this maturing process
11/11 Lotus root
Diners can expect root-to-stem dining - cue the full lotus deployed by the Michelin-starred Indian Benares in its kamal kakdi aur paneer korma
Public Health England runs its own long-term studies on salt intake, based on 24-hour urine analyses, with the latest results due soon.
And the government body’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, questioned reviews which drew on studies that were not based on such strong measuring techniques.
She told The Independent: “There is robust evidence showing that eating less salt lowers the risk of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
“The conclusions drawn by reviews always depend on the quality of studies included in them. In this area especially, it is really important that only studies that have accurately assessed salt intake are included.”
PHE has very specific daily guidelines, recommending salt intake no greater than 6g per day (the most recent national average was actually 7.2g).
And Mr Trinquart said it was not surprising that public officials issued such advice in spite of the lack of certainty among the scientific community.
“Decision-makers often must choose a course of action in the face of conflicting, uncertain evidence,” he said.
“Both the misuse of uncertainty and the exaggeration of certainty can shape the outcomes of public health decision-making processes.”Reuse content