It’s been a bad week for two of man’s staple requirements for a happy life: beer and cheese. No need to elaborate on the beer front: Dave’s smarmy face has been all over the news; first as he begins his jihad on booze one day and the next as he sidesteps Leveson and sticks his tongue up Murdoch’s arsehole.
No, what struck me was the latest attack on cheese. Poor Mr Mozzarella and other perfectly innocent members of the cheese family were once more put in the firing line. Last time it was over the amount of saturated fat that it can have. Now the so-called health "experts" are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the salt level of some cheeses.
“More salt in cheese than seawater," ran one alarmist headline this week as some parts of the media played up the shock and awe angle. The source of this latest outbreak of health hysteria was a report by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) which surveyed 772 supermarket cheeses and found that Cheddar had an average of 0.52 grams of salt per 30g serving.
Now some cheeses had even more salt than that and some had less, but the 0.52g made for a lazy comparison that Cash couldn’t resist feeding to the media. Katherine Jenner, Cash campaign director, said:”This survey shows that just one portion of cheese can contain more salt than a packet of crisps.” Well, yes it can-by 0.02 of a gram, but surely that’s not the point?
Crisps are a clear no-no health wise and have little, if any, nutritional benefit. Comparing them to cheese is disingenuous at best. Cheese is packed full of positive benefits: proteins, vitamins, it can aid sleep, fights tooth decay and boots production of the enzyme that makes us feel happy.
Salt in cheese is vital to mature and flavour hard cheeses such as Parmesan and soft-rind ones such as Camembert. It also is crucial in preventing bacteria from growing inside cheese and gives the food its savoury finish. With the high price of so-called “superfoods”, for many of the 98% of the cheese buying populace, it’s probably their healthiest buy.
Cash says that cheese ranks only behind bread and bacon (take that, you carnivore bastards) in terms of contributing salt to the British diet. I’ve no problem with banning bacon (see point above), so let the campaign to ban bread start here. But hold on, can’t you still legally buy crisps? Of course, as we know, the government doesn't like to ban products; merely lecture with one hand and collect our taxes with the other.
No, it’s as a director of the Dairy Council told the BBC: "The survey is mixing up the effect of cheese on health with the effect of salt on health. Salt is not added for taste or flavour but for safety and technical reasons." And, as levels are clearly stated on packs, customers are free to choose, anyway.
There is actually one more very interesting point to be made here. Graham MacGregor, chairman of Cash wants the government to step in and set lower salt levels for cheese makers: “For every one-gram reduction in population salt intake, we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal.”
Of course we’ve heard magical figures like this before, haven’t we? And usually they are based on suspect propositions and little hard evidence. This is even more so in this case as they are based solely on the much repeated salt-is-bad mantra. However, as with alcohol, the truth may not always be as the government would have it. Read here for a summary of the contrary view.
So the message is clear...Leave our cheese be.