Today sees the publication of a study which appears to show that reducing salt consumption can save lives. The research, conducted at Harvard medical school in the USA has found that individuals who reduced their salt intake from about 10 g to about 7 gram per day (a 30 per cent reduction) see a 25 per cent reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease) and were at 20 per cent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke, though this reduction in deaths was not statistically significant.
Previous studies have shown that salt restriction can help reduce blood pressure. The difference about this study is that it appears to prove that any reduction in blood pressure leads to meaningful reductions in the risk of actual disease.
While the salt lobby has traditionally attempted to cast doubt on the relationship between excessive salt consumption and ill-health, the research has been steadily mounting up over the years which has made it increasingly difficult to defend its corner. This latest study delivers, I think, a serious blow to those who would have us believe that salt is, essentially, harmless.
For those keen to do what they can to moderate their salt intake I have added below a piece below about this. Generally speaking, the great majority of the salt in our diet is to be found already-added in processed foods. To my mind, this is the place to look, not the salt we may be inclined to sprinkle on our salmon or steak, if we want to bring about meaningful reductions in our salt intake.
For more information, see the Consensus Action on Salt and Health website http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/
1. Cook NR, et al. Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP). British Medical Journal 2007; BMJ Online First.
Why cutting down on processed foods in the key to reducing salt in the diet
23 October 2005
This month, renewed calls have come from health professionals for us to reduce the amount of salt we consume. Currently, the average salt intake for a UK adult stands at about 10 g per day, and recommendations are that we should cut our daily intake to no more than 6 g. It is believed that this level of constraint would lead to global reductions in blood pressure that, in time, would translate into significant reductions in the rates of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Recently, I read that some doctors have become frustrated that their efforts to encourage individuals to eat less salt have not been helped by TV chefs who heartily recommend rock salt and sea salt in preference to regular table stuff.
While such salts may be more desirable from a culinary perspective, the fact is their negative effects on blood pressure are likely to be similar to those of table varieties. Personally, I am relaxed about celebrity chef salt recommendations, on the basis that the salt we add during cooking or at the table accounts for only about 10 per cent of the total salt we consume. The fact is, the great majority of our salt intake comes via processed foods. Therefore, it makes sense for those aiming to significantly reduce their salt intake to target not so much the salt they add themselves, but the salt in foods already added by the food industry.
Recently, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) urged the food industry to make significant reductions in the salt it adds to food. However, when supermarkets and food manufacturers objected to this on the basis of ‘technical’ and ‘consumer taste’ issues, the FSA lamely relaxed the proposed targets. It is perhaps no surprise that that food industry might be putting profit before public health but, personally, I had hoped for a little better from the Government agency chiefly responsible for food policy in the UK.
I suggest that those keen to reduce their salt consumption should vote with their feet by simply consuming less salt-laden processed fare. It is sometimes useful to compare the saltiness of foods with sea water, which contains about 2.5 g of salt per 100 g. Bread contains about half this level of salt, while some foods such as cornflakes, sausages and other processed meat products can contain salt levels equivalent to or even higher than sea water. Food manufacturers have got into the habit of listing the salt content of food not as salt itself, but as sodium. Watch out for this, as the sodium level must be multiplied by 2.5 in order to calculate the equivalent amount of salt. Avoiding salt-saturated processed food should help to protect us from the unsavoury effects of high blood pressure.