An excess consumption of salt has been linked with a large number of health issues; including an increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stomach cancer and overall mortality. Despite the evidence, salt consumption in the modern world remains very high.
Processed food are one of the main sources. Along with being high in salt, these products often contain harmful substances such as trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. Yet we live in an age of convenience, and processed foods seem to fit the bill. Whilst they may appeal to the taste buds and are often low in price, consuming them evidently comes at a much bigger cost – our health.
An interesting study was recently carried out in the Netherlands to evaluate the potential health benefits of various salt reduction strategies .
Three methods were used: 1) replacing high-salt foods with low-salt foods, 2) reducing the salt content of processed foods, and 3) adhering to the recommended maximum salt intake of 6 grams per day.
The health outcomes of the study were determined via a two-step process. Salt intake was first modelled into blood pressure levels. The Chronic Disease Model was then used to translate the blood pressures into occurrences of cardiovascular diseases, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and life expectancies. The health outcomes of the different scenarios were then compared with health outcomes determined from the current salt intake.
The results from the study were as follows. If salt intake meets the recommended maximum intake of 6 grams per day, the burden of disease might be reduced by 56,400 DALYs, and life expectancy could increase by 0.15 y for a 40-y-old person. The study also concluded that “4.8% of acute myocardial infarction cases, 1.7% of congestive heart failure cases, and 5.8% of stroke cases might be prevented”.
Although reducing salt consumption under 6 grams per day showed benefits, some experts argue that even this upper limit is still too high. The WHO now recommends no more than 2000 mg of sodium a day, equal to 5 grams of salt , and some experts are suggesting even lower values.
The Dutch study concluded that substituting foods with low-salt alternatives would lead to a slightly higher reduction in salt consumption than when aiming to just meet the 6 gram a day target alone; hence would lead to more health gains. Attempting to reduce salt content in already processed foods however was estimated to produce slightly lower results.
The message to take away seems to be: it is beneficial to your health to reduce your salt intake below the 6 gram a day limit. The most favourable method if doing so is to increase your consumption of whole foods that are naturally low in salt, and reduce your consumption of processed foods that are high in salt, along with many other unfavourable substances.
- Hendriksen, Marieke AH, et al. “Potential effect of salt reduction in processed foods on health.” The American journal of clinical nutrition (2014): ajcn-062018.