Exposed at last – the breakfast table killer

  • As a kid a bag of chips was a treat – is it now?
  • Discover the health time bomb on your table
  • Find out what a salty scientist has to say

As a kid I used to love Friday nights.

Dad would always finish work a little earlier and I would wait down the road to meet him as he walked back from work.

Then the two of us would walk down to the local chip shop to buy dinner.

If I close my eyes I can still see the huge old fryers and the air thick with greasy steam and vinegar fumes.

By standing on tiptoe I could look over the counter top to see the fried delights as they were shovelled onto a small square of greaseproof paper on top of a stack of newspaper.

Then the inevitable question “salt and vinegar?” and Dad’s usual reply “loads of it if it’s free!”

It was a scene which played out every week and I loved it.

Back home with a glass of milk, a handful of chips and a chunk of Mum’s fish plus fresh bread and butter; I was in my idea of gastronomic heaven.

And to this day I find the lure of a proper chippy one of my biggest challenges.

But this week’s letter isn’t concerned with the damage that a plate of chips can do to the waistline (although that is a consideration right at the moment!).

No, the focus of my concern is the salt that was liberally shaken over my dinner.

I can’t deny that I really enjoyed it, sharp and cutting and the perfect partner for lashings of vinegar that filled the air with caramel tinged fumes – I can close my eyes and be back at the Friday night dinner table every time I pass a chip shop even now.

But it looks like this simple weekly treat should have got my mum and dad locked away for child neglect, if the news is anything to go by.

A research paper published in the American Heart Association Journal has concluded that if children are given too much salt they massively increase the risk of developing cardiovascular problems later in life.

The scientists found that most children have eaten about 75% of their daily allowance before they leave home in the morning.

By the end of the day they have exceeded a safe limit by around 25% – each and every day.

What I find remarkable though is that the foods you would expect to be the cause aren’t.

Crisps, nuts and other salty snacks only account for around 5% of their intake, and this includes a shaking of salt on a bag of chips.

These are all foods where you can actually see the [salt crystals, even requiring you to lick them off your fingers after you’ve eaten them, so logic says they must be to blame.

But the real culprits are the hidden assassins once again – and it’s not just kids that are over indulging.

The health time bomb on your breakfast table

So, where does the blame lie?

Step forward the multinational breakfast cereal and bread manufacturers, come hither all you purveyors of ready meals and move along now all of those involved with fast food.

You are to blame.

Breakfast cereals alone account for over a third of a child’s daily intake of salt – a single bowl of cornflakes has nearly twice as much salt as a bag of ready salted crisps.

Two slices of white mass-manufactured bread for toast at breakfast and the same again in a sandwich for lunch and you have had half of your daily salt from bread alone.

It is madness – obvious and blatant stupidity.

Not on the actions of parents who are feeding their children, not even on the shoulders of the manufacturers who are shoving the salt into their tasteless pulp…

…no the madness is all from the government.

Asked to comment on this report the latest incarnation of political fools have said that they intend to encourage the food industry to take salt in our diets seriously.

Ooh I bet they were really scared – it must have been like a savaging from a goldfish!

Tell the entire commercial world that unless the amount of hidden salt in food is reduced they will be taxed to within a shred of their shareholder values.  It’s the only language they understand.

But rather than my ranting on the subject see what a more learned man’s response was.

The salt professor speaks

Professor Graham MacGregor, a specialist in cardiovascular medicine and chairman of Consensus Action on Salt (CASH) said the findings of the study showed that the levels of salt derived from bread and cereal had to be addressed.

He stated that even though the UK manufacturers had reduced salt by around 30%, it wasn’t enough.

For many years the bakers have been vociferously defending the amount of salt they add to bread by saying it is there for taste reasons and that it is not technically possible to reduce it.

Back in 1990 the Federation of Bakers said it had reached its limit of capability…

…but they have continued to lower the levels year upon year – just not fast enough.

The real reason has nothing to do with taste though – it’s all about the manufacturing process. The salt stops the dough being too sticky and gumming up the specialised machinery.

Back in the days of baking by hand this wasn’t a consideration as bakers used hard flinty flour and very little salt.  Now the glutinous wheat varieties plus the modern steam rich Chorleywood baking process demands a very different dough.

And we get a much inferior type of bread.

The same is true for virtually all other manufactured foods says Professor MacGregor. “What the food industry is currently doing is selling cheap, processed foods that are high in fat, high in salt and sugar with no feeling of satiation or fullness. It’s a disaster.”

Prof… I couldn’t agree more.