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With demonisation, the devil is in the detail

I’ve learned over the years from watching numerous cookery programmes on TV that seasoning essentially means adding salt. And a pinch of salt is more or less a handful. Of course, we are continually told that salt is very bad for us; in particular, it is one of the principal causes of high blood pressure. As part of an annual health check, I have recently had my blood pressure taken for the umpteenth time, and for the umpteenth time told that it was on the higher side of optimal. Along with that came the advice to cut salt out of my diet, to get my readings away from the amber and firmly back into the green.

Never being one to do anything without researching it first, I looked up the problems associated with high blood pressure, and what one could do to reduce it. It goes without saying that high blood pressure is indeed bad news, and all the advice I could find started with cutting out salt.

Out of interest, I looked up problems associated with low blood pressure. It’s certainly not as serious as high blood pressure, but if your blood pressure too low it can restrict the amount of blood flowing to your brain and other vital organs, which can cause unsteadiness, dizziness or fainting. Depending on the circumstances, that might also be pretty bad news. Curiously, in none of the advice on dealing with low blood pressure did it mention increasing your salt intake.

Report after report argues that salt probably isn’t as bad for you as the government and medical advice makes out, but there is nothing the authorities like better in this country than demonising something the rest of us need or enjoy. And they seem to take particular glee in demonising something that was once considered good for us.

Take, for example, the diesel engine. There was a time not so long ago when we were all being told that buying a diesel was the best thing we could do. Diesel car registrations today account for around 45% of UK car sales – around a million vehicles annually. And the UK builds around 750,000 diesel engines each year. Between the car sales and the engine production, that’s a lot of industry and a lot of jobs reliant on diesel, and a lot of consumer investment as well. But the authorities are undeniably demonising diesel. The government’s draft UK clean air plan is tacitly encouraging local authorities to either ban diesel vehicles from urban centres or charge drivers heavily for the privilege of driving their vehicle into town. And a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles is also being considered. At the moment, discussions are built around the scrapping of diesel vehicles built prior to the introduction of the markedly cleaner Euro 6 engines. While there may be merit to such a scheme, commentators believe such an initiative might well be the beginning of the end for diesel altogether. They argue it will see diesel sales and prices plummet uncontrollably, with no way back.

The problem with relying too heavily on expert opinions is that, invariably, a couple of years down the line the experts change their mind: butter, eggs and wine are all now firmly back on the menu in the Simms household, and perhaps salt will make a comeback, too. So let’s all pause for breath before we demonise diesel for good.

Mark Simms Editor

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