I felt, as I read the headline ‘Eating less salt does not cut heart risks, study says…’ my mother’s ghost hovering over me, finger wagging.
‘You health nuts,’ she accused me, back in the 1990s when the Mediterranean diet had just become all the rage, ‘Ten years ago you all told me that I shouldn’t eat olive oil because it was too fatty – now you are telling me that it is the healthiest food out! I am not going to pay any attention to you – none of you have a clue what you are talking about!’
Well, whole food policies have been built over the last ten years, on the belief that we were all eating far too much salt which would inevitably lead to us all suffering strokes and heart attacks and now here is a Belgian researcher (Dr Jan Staessen, of the University of Leuven to be precise) telling us that this is a load of nonsense and that in his study, those who consumed the least salt had a 3% higher chance of dying from a heart attack than those who consumed the most!
Well, it is a little more complicated than that – and this is of course only one study (if you want to read a more detailed report click here) – but it does make you wonder… And this is not the first time that advice has been turned on its head.
I recently heard an eminent allergist slagging off colleagues who were still recommending that infants from atopic families and their mothers should not consume peanuts under the age of two as that was now ‘old’ advice and ‘the latest research showed’ that one should start inducing tolerance early – or, hang on, was it the other way around? Or was that last month? God help the parents of atopic children who may indeed be peanut allergic as the advice is now very confusing. Very well meant and very eminent, but still very confusing. See the FSA advice on eating peanuts during pregnancy, breast feeding and early childhood.
It is easy to carp but if we are humble – or realistic – enough to accept that we still know extraordinarily little about the body and how it functions, it is not surprising that each time we learn a little more, our understanding of the whole changes. It is a bit like doing a jig saw without a picture – you get one bit right and on that basis make all kinds of assumptions about the rest of the picture only to discover, when you fit the next group of pieces, that you had actually got it all wrong. Fine for a jigsaw – not so fine when you are dealing with the health of whole populations.
In introducing the excellent BSEM conference on vaccinations last March, Dr Dovid Freed pointed out that until very recently doctors would never have had the temerity to tell you how to stay healthy; they confined themselves to doing their best to make you better once you got ill. Given their dodgy record on nutritional advice (setting aside their policies on prophylactic medication – aka vaccinations) maybe governments should do the same?