Thursday, January 6, 2011


Salt has been known to mankind for centuries and why it has become a villain in human foods during the last 5-6 decades must raise alarms all around. Probably one of the most logical reasons could be the increasing dependence of the population on manufactured industrial foods which are invariably "salted" very heavily for enhancing taste and acceptability, almost bordering on addiction. It is fairly well known that foods containing high levels of salt, sugar and fat are liked by most consumers and these "hyper" foods can be as addictive as cigarettes or opiates. If processed foods are the main culprit for the modern health crisis, what can be done to arrest the deteriorating situation? The most logical answer is to make the industry realize their "mistake" and reduce salt content in all foods by substantial amounts. But most democratic countries prefer the industry to exercise voluntary restraint in cutting down on salt without any pressure or force from the government. Unfortunately such an approach does not seem to be bringing any dramatic impact on the salt front as is being realized by many countries in the West. The recent finding that health benefits because of compulsory regulation of salt in processed foods can bring about 20 times more health benefits, as compared to voluntary restraint, may persuade many countries to restrict salts in packed foods through appropriate regulatory policy.

"However, in a press release, the BMJ reports that the study authors discovered that "the health benefits across the population could be 20 times greater if the government imposed mandatory limits… amounting to a reduction of 18% in ill health from cardiovascular disease." Reuters reports that the study also found that 94% of Australian men and 64% of women in the country eat more salt than is recommended. The news agency also cites an unnamed study which reported that 90% of all Americans consume too much salt as well. "When it's so excessive, it makes sense for the government to step in to take action," Cobiac told Reuters. "It's cost saving to the government in the longer term to reduce salt content in food." In an interview with BBC News, British Heart Foundation senior dietitian Victoria Taylor added, "We're making progress without the need for compulsory limits and as a result we've seen a reduction in salt intake… But as three quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, we need to build on this work and watch carefully to make sure the food industry doesn't slip back into old habits."

While the food industry can be easily regulated and forced to reduce salt levels in their products, what about the restaurant foods? With eating out becoming a regular family activity, especially amongst the middle income group, these foods can be equally dangerous as far as salt levels are concerned. Regulatory bodies must take up this issue and make the restaurants conform to guidelines regarding addition of salt in prepared foods. Voluntarily it is unlikely that the eateries will agree for any reduction because the most critical factor that attracts customers is the taste of food offered and unless there is an upper limit prescribed, no one will resist the temptation to use maximum levels of salt that can ensure best taste to their preparations. Of course the lobbyists for the industry and restaurants can be expected to continue to sing the "voluntary restraint" song for delaying any mandatory rules as much as possible.


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