Reviewing current science on salt and its effects on health, UK scientists say that while there is no proven evidence to support intake restriction guidelines in the general population, no-one would be disadvantaged by reducing their intake.
The scientists from the UK's Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST), have updated an Information Statement on salt, replacing that of September 1999, to include recent studies and findings that salt content in manufactured foods has indeed dropped in the UK over recent years.
However conflicting views between health authorities such as the UK Food Standards Agency which recommends a reduction in salt, and the industry view - that evidence does not justify universal restriction of salt, remain. Salt producers, via the Salt Institute, strongly dispute the need for intake restriction guidelines.
Since most salt intake still arises from salt incorporated in manufactured and other prepared foods, these provide the main scope for reduction of intake. The IFST notes however that some food manufacturers have marketed low-salt versions, or have progressively reduced salt content over a period of time.
They state that there are still areas "where we lack knowledge or where interpretations of existing knowledge differ, and, in particular, whether it is appropriate to seek to encourage reduced salt intake for the whole population.
"Nevertheless, if salt reduction is achieved without compromising microbiological safety, no part of the population would be disadvantaged by it, as those who might find certain reduced-salt manufactured foods less palatable have the freedom to add table salt 'to taste' before consumption," says the IFST statement.
The group also highlights some of the communication problems between consumer and manufacturer. Foods must be adequately labelled in respect of sodium/salt to provide sufficient and understandable information for consumers to make informed choices. However there is confusion over terms for salt: "what really matters is sodium intake and in the EU if nutrition information includes sodium it has to be declared as sodium, not as salt, whereas salt is what consumers understand".
A current EU review of the Labelling Directive should take this into account, although some organisations have expressed concern that this may be overlooked.
Also, the marketing of low salt versions of foods involves bringing them to the attention of consumers by labelling claims. Again, this should be made easier by new legislation on nutrition labelling claims, although Codex Standards have already been largely adopted in the UK.