Expert slams 'politicised' nutrition and salt science

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Blood pressure, Salt intake, High blood pressure, Hypertension, Nutrition, Potassium

Expert slams 'politicised' nutrition and salt science
Nutrition is being politicised, with food authorities bowing to pressure from minority interests and lobbyists in areas such as salt reduction at significant risk to consumer health, according to one expert.

Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk, consultant nutritionist at First Food Solutions Dr Gary Stephenson said moves to remove salt from food failed to adequately acknowledge the beneficial effects sodium played in the diet.

Death rates

For instance, a study by Dr Elif I. Ekinci et al. from the University of Melbourne, published in the journal Diabetes Care​ in March,​ suggested that death rates from diabetes were higher amongst 638 participants (tracked over 10 years) with Type 2 of the disease who had cut their sodium intake.

Said Stephenson: “There is a huge relationship between obesity, high blood pressure and low sodium levels.”

In addition, Stephenson said the evidence linking over-consumption of salt to raised blood pressure levels was more complex than was being painted. In the highest age range (56 and above) included in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), for example, higher sodium intake actually correlated with lower blood pressure.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) had failed to account for this in its advice on reducing sodium consumption in the diet, “setting public health policy without adequate data on the impact on public health”, ​Stephenson said.

“There’s a huge cost to manufacturers of reducing salt when it may not have any effect on public health. In fact, it may have a harmful effect. Nutrition academics have been afraid to speak out because many are supported and funded by the FSA.”

Deficient in potassium

Rather than high salt intake, the real problem was low potassium levels, leading to the kidneys being unable to excrete excess sodium, said Stephenson. According to the NDNS, 95% of the population were deficient in potassium.

The Department of Health (DoH), which has taken on many of the FSA’s responsibilities, rejected Stephenson’s claims. “The scientific consensus is that there are real benefits to be achieved by decreasing salt intake, which has been shown to reduce high blood pressure", ​a spokesman said.

"Evidence to the contrary is inconsistent,”​ he added. “It is as a result of a clear evidence base that over 32 countries around the world are actively seeking to reduce the salt intake of their populations.

"The UN [United Nations] is promoting salt reduction at its ministerial meeting in non-communicable diseases later this year. The food industry supports the government by committing to reduce salt in the foods under the Public Health Responsibility Deal.”

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