The UK Institute of Food Science & Technology, through its Public Affairs and Technical & Legislative Committees, has authorised an updated information statement on salt that replaces that of September 1999. Read below for the IFST Report summary.
Sodium and chloride ions are dietary essentials - there is rarely a problem of shortage, but, in the case of sodium, the risk lies in excessive intakes.
Several authorities, including the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, the UK Food Standards Agency and the American Public Health Association, recommend an overall reduction in salt intake to reduce the effect on blood pressure, although others take the view that evidence does not justify universal restriction but that intake restriction should be encouraged for older hypertensives and young children. 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.
While food manufacturers wish to maintain the palatability of those food products in which salt plays a part and the functionality in products where salt performs an indispensable technological function, some have marketed low-salt versions, or have progressively reduced salt content over a period, where technical and microbiological considerations make this possible.
As in many nutrition/public health controversies, a great deal of heat is generated that tends to obscure the strictly science-based position. Even disregarding the extremes of the debate, 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.
Recognising that in science, and especially in nutrition/health controversies, nothing can ever be conclusively "proven", one has to make, on what will always be partial knowledge, the best judgement possible at the time.
According to the IFST, this would, at present, require an encouragement to food manufacturers and caterers to reduce further, where safely and technically possible, the salt content of manufactured or prepared foods or offer an alternative choice of low sodium/salt products. In addition, that foods adequately labelled in respect of sodium/salt to provide sufficient and sufficiently understandable information for the exercise of informed choice. Finally, appropriate medical advice to older hypertensives and to parents regarding their children's diet. In addition, advice to the public to adopt a healthy balanced diet, low in fat and salt and rich in fruit, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, and to avoid the excessive use of salt in cooking or at the table, concluded the IFST.