Salt shaker

Back when schools still stuffed kids with salt tablets on sunny days, warnings that we were all slowly seasoning ourselves to death fell on deaf ears. But that didn’t deter Graham MacGregor. The professor of cardiovascular medicine has spent four decades battling the white stuff - first salt, latterly sugar - facing off malign food industry forces and weak politicians, a struggle he looked back on in The Life Scientific (Radio 4, 25 April, 9am).

Back in the 1970s, the then “naïve” kidney specialist felt flummoxed at hostility to findings all we needed was a mere 0.5g of salt per day. Venezuelan hunter-gatherers chased wild animals for 20 miles on less than that, after all. Back in the UK, we binged on 20 times that amount.

But MacGregor learned a high-salt diet suited food firms. Salt receptors become repressed and anything served without lashings of it tastes bland. “It makes you thirsty too, which is very important for the soft drinks, beer and water industry,” he claimed. Never mind that the litres of water “sloshing around inside us” led to high blood pressure and deadly strokes.

But thanks to MacGregor’s lobbying (and that of fellow campaigners), the UK is now 30,000 tonnes of salt lighter each year and the NHS saves £1.5bn annually too.

But there’s a new villain in town keeping MacGregor busy. Though admitting it’s a “bit mad” to take on sugar too, he’s optimistic in 10 years we’ll finally reach a “coherent plan”, with the support of industry. If for no other reason than “dead consumers don’t eat food”.