Bread and salt

We bake our own bread. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s always delicious.

But the food fascists are on my trail. Some ghastly little committee of busybodies called “Consensus Action on Salt and Health” is pressing for targets on salt in bread to be reduced from 1.1% to 1%.

They’ve just published a huffy-puffy report. They found that some artisan loaves contained as much as 2.83% (Pauls) or 2.03% (Cranks). Mind you, the vast majority even of the artisan breads were under 1.5%. I can easily understand the 2.83% from Pauls, since it’s a wholemeal pain de campagne, and must be a devil to prepare without it falling back into a stodgy mess and emerging like a paving slab. Long slow raising and proving is the secret, and salt is the vital yeast inhibitor.

But healthy salvation is at hand! Consensus (ha!) Action on Salt and Health grudgingly approves of such delights as Tesco Stayfresh White Sliced, at a mere 0.6% salt, or M&S Simply More Eatwell Healthiest White Bread (0.58%) if you like to spend a bit more money on your tasteless pap.

“With bread being the biggest contributor of salt to our diets, it is frankly outrageous that bread still contains so much salt. The Department of Health needs to ensure that all bread is clearly labelled and that all manufacturers reduce the salt of bread to less than the salt target of 1g/100g [Ref 6],” says Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH. “It is the very high levels of salt that is hidden in everyday food, such as bread, that puts up both adults’ and children’s blood pressure. If all manufacturers cut the salt in their breads by a half, it would reduce our salt intakes by half a gram per day, which is predicted to prevent over 3,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks a year [Ref 9].”

Oh dear! My bread is typically 1.25% salt in the finished product, so I’m well out of line. Mind you, I’ve got in front of me one of the bread-making bibles, Elizabeth David on “English Bread and Yeast Cookery”, which includes basic recipes with 2.4% salt in the baked loaf.

Dietary salt targets are one of the most difficult things to attain. When I go on one of my occasional weight loss diets, I monitor my intake scrupulously, all analysed according to the USDA nutritional database. I can achieve any of the current official targets except salt. The health geeks currently set the maximum recomended daily allowance at 6g a day, but are pressing to reduce it to 3g.

This seems to me to create two unintended consequences. First that if a target isn’t attainable, tightening it will make things worse. We’ll just give up. Second, it’s clear that even making progress towards the target will simply encourage the killjoys to clamour for more.

I’m off to cook some pasta. I might even salt the water a little more than usual, just as a small gesture of independence from nanny.

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