Unsavoury claims

Posted on July 29, 2016

'Savoury dips are "salt and fat traps", warns health group', declared a headline in the Guardian yesterday. The claim was made by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), a monomaniac group of salt obsessives. The only trap here is for churnalists, willingly dishing out CASH propaganda.

CASH, along with sister organisation Action on Sugar, has become skilled in pumping out standardised bite-sized morsels of apparently shocking stories to a hungry media. These stories take the form of, er, looking on the back of food packages, finding the ones with the most salt or sugar and comparing the figures to ludicrously low guideline amounts. In this case, CASH 'research' (which frankly could have been undertaken by an intern) found that 'Three-quarters of hummus products (74%) carry a so-called “traffic light” label red warning for fat, while a serving of Asda’s own-brand taramasalata was singled out for packing in as much salt as 13 Ritz crackers'.

Professor Graham McGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and the leading light behind both CASH and AoS (and quite possibly the most arrogant man walking the earth today), declared: 'Once again we demonstrate the unnecessary amounts of salt and fat being added by the food industry to what could be a healthy product.' The good professor might have noticed the clue in the title 'savoury dips'. They're supposed to be salty. The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'savoury' as 'belonging to the category which is salty or spicy rather than sweet'. To drastically cut the amount of salt in such dips would be to render them bland and pointless.

Nor is it the case that it's always manufacturers who are adding the salt. Take popular Greek dip taramasalata - it's naturally salty. A spokesperson for Asda told the Guardian: 'Our customers wouldn’t be surprised that the ingredients used to make some dips, such as a traditional Greek taramasalata, are naturally higher in salt than some of our other dips. All the salt in this dip comes from cod roe ... we do not add any additional salt.'

Does salt-dodging have any significant impact on health? Here's what the Cochrane Review on salt said in 2014 on efforts to reduce salt intake: 'Dietary advice and salt substitution did reduce the amount of salt eaten, which led to a small reduction in blood pressure by six months. There was weak evidence of benefit for cardiovascular events, but these findings were inconclusive and were driven by a single trial among retirement home residents, which reduced salt intake in the kitchens of the homes.'

The anti-salt zealots would have us eating bland food for the rest of our lives for the sake of, at most, a small reduction in the risk of heart disease or stroke. This isn't sage advice. It's idiotic. That famous advertising slogan apparently penned by Salman Rushdie, 'naughty but nice', must cause apoplexy amongst food campaigners. The rest of us would rather our food tasted of something.

'News' like this CASH 'research' would be nothing more than tomorrow's fish-and-chip paper were it not for the fact that Whitehall and Westminster are populated with politicians and civil servants who swallow this nonsense and are puffed up enough to believe that Something Must Be Done and they are the ones to do it. So they put pressure on food manufacturers to reduce salt in their products or, even worse, impose taxes and bans, like George Osborne's fizzy drinks tax.

So here's a tip for anyone reading such nonsense from CASH: take it with a pinch of salt.