Salt linked to millions of early deaths: How to stop overconsuming

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Salt linked to 2.4 million premature deaths worldwide in 2010

If you think salt in your food is something you cannot live without, you may want to reconsider. Results of studies from the American Heart Association show the common and frequently overused seasoning was responsible for millions of deaths worldwide in 2010. A second report revealed three quarters of the population consumes twice the recommended amount of sodium.

Seventy-five percent of people consume twice the recommended amount of salt

The findings, presented at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2013 Scientific Sessions reveals 75 percent of the population consumes 3500 to 4000 mg or more a day of the seasoning.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended less than 2000 mg a day for healthy individuals. The AHA says 1,500 mg a day protects heart health.

Saman Fahimi, M.D., M.Phil., lead author and a visiting scientist in the Harvard School of Public Health's epidemiology department in Boston, Mass said the hope is the finding will spur policy makers to develop public health interventions to get people to lower their sodium intake.

The study looked at how much salt men and women consume by country and is the first to uncover information about how much of the seasoning permeates our food across the globe.

Sodium in our food comes from table salt, when we cook, when food gets to the table and it is also disguised in pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods.

According to Harvard experts, everyday food is the primary source of too much sodium. Bread is one of the top sources, followed by cold cuts, pizza and poultry.

Salt in the diet is important for electrolyte balance. Sodium helps maintain cellular balance, but too much can led to hypertension, kidney disease, stroke, heart failure and more. Most salt is hidden in our foods. The CDC suggests most salt is hidden in food. Approximately 5 percent is intentionally added to food by consumers.

High sodium intake has been directly linked to heart disease and stroke in past studies.

For their study, researchers analyzed results of 247 surveys about sodium intake, classifying the results by age, gender, region and country between 1990 and 2010. The surveys came from the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study.

Risk of heart and blood vessel disease was then linked to sodium consumption from high blood pressure in a meta-analysis of 107 randomized, prospective trials and compared to cardiovascular risk for those whose salt intake is no more than 1000 mg per day.


The finding showed 1 million premature deaths in people 69 years old and younger; 60 percent in men and 40 percent in women. Heart attack accounted for 42 percent of deaths and 41 percent were from strokes. The rest occurred from other types of cardiovascular disease. Eighty-four percent of deaths were in low and middle-income countries from too much sodium consumption.

Among the largest countries, Ukraine, Russian and Egypt had the highest death rates from eating too much salt. The United States ranked 19th for death rates, representing 1 in 10 US deaths from heart and vascular related causes among the large countries studied.

Tips to lower your salt intake

Learn to be a label reader: You may not be adding salt at the table, but if you are buying prepared foods and anything in a package it is important to know how much sodium you are getting. The goal is to keep your intake at or below 1500 mg. a day unless your doctor has advised otherwise. Pay attention to the serving size on packaging.

Measure: As a reference, one teaspoon of salt equals 2300 mg of sodium. Understanding exactly how much salt you are adding to soups, stews, homemade breads and casseroles can ensure you keep you limit to the recommended amount for heart health.

Use more herbs: Spice up your pantry. Consider adding herb blends that can easily replace salt for flavor, especially if you don’t want to load the cupboards with a variety of spices that you‘re not sure how to mix together.

Healthy options for salt substitutes include Mrs. Dash, “Perfect Pinch” salt free options made by McCormick and Benson’s no-salt gourmet seasoning.

Know hidden sources of salt: Baking soda, baking powder, Disodium phosphate used in cheeses and quick cooking cereals, sodium alginate in milk and ice cream and anything else with the word sodium (nitrite, benzoate, sulfite etc.) are sources of sodium.

Eat fresh: If you find reading labels tedious, skip packaged foods and buy fresh. Spring and summer are great times of the year to shop at a local farmer’s market that can also be easier on the budget.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store: You are most likely to find heart healthy foods at the grocery store in the outside aisles. A rule of thumb is to avoid the middle aisles altogether where most of the prepackaged foods are stocked. Just don’t go there.

The studies show millions of deaths can be avoid if we just learn to curb our salt intake. It takes practice and awareness to get sodium out of the diet. Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., lead author of the study said millions of lives can be saved each year with focused public health sodium reduction programs. The worldwide study attributes 2.3 million deaths in 2010 from overconsumption of salt.

Source: Newsroom
March 21, 2013


Image credit: Morguefile


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