If You Add Extra Salt To Your Food You're At Risk of Premature Death: Study

Increased salt intake elevates blood pressure, which increases the risk of a fatal stroke or heart attack.

3 min read

If you use a lot of salt in your food, you’re far more likely to die prematurely, according a study.

Salt elevates blood pressure, which increases the chance of a potentially fatal stroke or heart attack, as well as the risk of cancer, but a new study published in the European Society of Cardiology journal is the first to clearly isolate the influence of salt added to your food during a meal, and differentiate its effects from overall salt consumption.

Shrimp, cheese, prawns, ham, gravy granules, smoked fish, soy sauce, and other high salt items are common in many households. Packaged meals like soup, sandwiches, breakfast cereals, vegetable juice, canned vegetables and tomato ketchup can be particularly high in salt too, so read your food labels and compare goods.

In a statement to The Guardian, Prof Lu Qi of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, who led the study, said, “To my knowledge, our study is the first to assess the relation between adding salt to foods and premature death."

“Even a modest reduction in sodium intake, by adding less or no salt to food at the table, is likely to result in substantial health benefits, especially when it is achieved in the general population.”
Prof Lu Qi, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans

In the general population, around three out of every hundred adults aged 40 to 69 die prematurely. The present study states that increased risk from adding salt to food frequently is responsible for one in every three of these deaths.

Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans surveyed half a million British people aged 40 to 69. The participants were asked if they added salt to their food, and the answers were: never/rarely, occasionally, usually, or always. They were followed up on after an average of nine years.

Those who included a higher amount of salt to their diet had a 28 percent higher chance of dying prematurely (before the age of 75), when compared to those who consumed lower amounts of salt or barely any salt.

Professor Lu Qi's team of researchers considered characteristics that influence death, such as age, weight, gender, smoking and drinking habits, and health issues.

People who ate the most fruit and vegetables had a somewhat lower chance of dying young compared to those who ate the most salt.

Prof Annika Rosengren, a senior researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, said that while some health advice is straightforward, for example, there being no negative consequences to quitting smoking, other advice tends to have its caveats. There is an ideal level of salt you should consume daily, which means it cannot be completely eliminated from the diet.

It is difficult to declare a uniform "sweet spot" for every individual, but according to the FDA, 2 grams of sodium per day is ideal.

“So far, what the collective evidence about salt seems to indicate is that healthy people consuming what constitutes normal levels of ordinary salt need not worry too much about their salt intake.”
Prof Annika Rosengren, Senior researcher, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg

A balanced salt intake with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables should be the goal for this group. Those at high risk of heart disease, on the other hand, should probably dial back their overall salt intake, at least according to the American Heart Association.

(Written with inputs from The Guardian)

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