According to a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, almost every adult across the globe takes in an excess of salt. Specifically, the research found that in 181 countries out of a total of 187 for which the data was available, adults consume too much sodium. In just a few African nations — notably Kenya, Cameroon and Gabon — was sodium consumption kept below the recommended level.
The World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of two grams, but researchers at Tufts University discovered that the average daily intake of sodium per person is a whopping 3.95 grams of sodium: almost twice as much.
The researchers further concluded that this over-consumption of salt is a major cause of high blood pressure around the world, leading to 1.65 million premature deaths annually from cardiovascular problems and strokes. Forty percent of those deaths occurred before the age of 70, and 84 percent were in low- and middle-income countries.
Dariush Mozzafarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who led the research, is convinced that a reduction in salt intake would lead to the lowering of blood pressure and fewer deaths. “What needs to be done is to have a national, coordinated policy on salt in food for the United States,” Mozzafarian says.
Balance is the Key
But wait a minute, doesn’t salt have some good qualities, too? After all, the truth is that we all need a little bit of salt because it helps keep our body fluids at the right concentration. And if you have low blood pressure, you may actually need to add salt to your diet. We are even reading lately that scientists have come up with a way to inject a salt solution into our bodies to kill cancer cells.
We are all different. And, as usual, it’s important to use common sense in deciding what’s right for you.
Still, the majority of us eat more salt than we need, and this can increase our volume of body fluids and, as noted above, push up our blood pressure. And the scary thing about high blood pressure is that it often has no symptoms but can lead to serious health issues.
Read the Labels
As salt is often a “hidden” ingredient in many foods, it can sometimes be difficult to work out how much we are eating. Some foods, such as chips, olives and bacon, taste obviously salty and can easily be removed from your diet if you are trying to cut down.
However, 75 percent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, such as bread and cereals. Even sweet things, such as cookies, have salt added to them.
To keep track of your salt intake, get into the habit of reading the nutritional information on food labels, where you will find the salt (sodium) content for a 100g serving.
As a rough guide:
• a high amount of salt is more than 1.5g for 100g (0.6g sodium)
• a low amount of salt is 0.3g for 100g (0.1g sodium)
In case you’re wondering about sea salt versus table salt, here’s the scoop: sea salt does have some benefits. Gourmet chefs rave about sea salt because of its coarse, crunchy texture and stronger flavor, and manufacturers of chips and other snacks declare sea salt as “all natural,” not processed like table salt. And yes, sea salt does have extra minerals like magnesium. But the sodium content in sea salt and table salt is virtually identical.
Do you know what your daily intake of salt is?
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