Eating less salt will not prevent heart attacks, strokes or early death, according to a major study.
Its findings contradict all recommendations by the Government and medical profession urging the public to reduce the amount of salt they consume.
Research involving nearly 6,500 people concluded that there was ‘no strong evidence’ that lowering levels in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease or premature death.
In fact it found that cutting back on salt actually raises the likelihood of death in some patients with heart problems.
The researchers from Exeter University say that the benefits of cutting back on salt may have been ‘overestimated’.
They also point out that there are other important lifestyle factors such as eating fruit, taking exercise, following a low-fat diet and not smoking which will also affect the health of an individual.
The findings have been criticised by campaigners and other scientists, who say there is strong evidence that reducing levels of salt will protect the heart.
They say the reason the study did not show that cutting back on salt prevented heart attacks may be because the people involved reduced their intake only for short periods of time.
Large amounts of salt in the diet increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Currently adults are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day – or one teaspoon – but it is estimated they average 9g a day.
The Government has begun working with manufacturers, fast food firms and restaurants to try to get them to reduce the amount of salt in their products.
And in recent years there have been campaigns urging the public to try to cut down on foods high in it, such as ready meals, takeaways and cereals.
But research published today in the Cochrane Review journal concludes there is limited evidence that cutting down on salt reduces the risk of illness or early death.