Salt – the acquired killer taste

Globally, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity.(1-7) According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) burden of disease statistics, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for persons over 60 years of age and the second leading cause of death for persons aged 15-59.(6) There is strong evidence supporting the link between excessive salt consumption with increased risk of several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.(1-7) Excessive salt consumption raises blood pressure which is one of the single biggest predictors of developing cardiovascular disease.(1-3) Research indicates that individuals only need to ingest 1 to 2 grams of salt a day but in most countries, many people are consuming as much as 5 times this amount.(7)

In Australia, stroke is the leading cause of mortality with an estimated 40 000 to 48 000 incidences occurring each year.(2) According to the Australian Heart Foundation, a 25-35% reduction in salt intake could minimise the risk of heart attacks and strokes by over 20%.(2) Furthermore, the Heart Foundation suggests that over 40% of all occurrences of strokes could be prevented by combating high blood pressure.(2) Similarly, a study in the United States suggests that a decrease in salt intake by 3g/day will significantly reduce the incidence of new cases of coronary heart disease, stroke and myocardial infarction, translating to a saving of over 10 billion dollars in health care costs.(1) Furthermore, even a gradual, modest reduction in salt intake of 1g/day over a decade period would be more cost-effective than reliance on medication to lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.(1)

Evidence shows that the magnitude of health benefits as a result of reduced salt consumption suggests that globally, population wide salt consumption reduction should be a public health target.(1) Accordingly, after an extensive review of available evidence, the WHO (4,6) has set a worldwide target of a maximum intake for adults of 5g/day of salt (with recommendations being lower for children). In response to the increased (public) attention surrounding this issue, many countries have collaborated with the WHO in effort to endorse population-wide reduction in salt consumption.(6) Despite general consensus of the link between reduced salt intake and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, this issue remains controversial. (1-7)

What can you do to decrease your salt intake? Here’s a few tips:
1. EAT FRESH FOODS – did you know that as much as 75% of salt consumed is found in processed foods?
2. USE HERBS AND SPICES to flavour meals instead of salt (see below)
3. CHOOSE LOW OR REDUCED SALT VARIETIES – especially items such as bread, breakfast cereals, soup, sauces and cheese which contain a fair amount of salt (or sodium as seen on back-of-pack nutrition panels)
4. REMOVE THE SALT SHAKER from the dining area/table – out of reach, out of sight, out of mind (hopefully)!

Salt is an acquired taste. As you decrease your use of salt, your taste buds will adjust in a matter of weeks. Taming your salt habit doesn’t mean compromising food taste. Take a look at this flavour guide from AWASH (Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health):

DON’T USE salt, MSG/chicken salt, garlic salt, stock cubes, packet gravy, soy sauce
USE vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, lime, wine, homemade stock/gravy, onion, shallots

For more information about salt and heart health, click on Heart Foundation.

References:
1. Bibbins-Domingo, K, Chertow, GM, Coxson, PG, Moran, A, Lightwood, JM, Pletcher, MJ, et al. 2010, ‘Projected effect of dietary salt reductions on future cardiovascular disease’, N Engl J Med, vol. 362, no.7, pp. 590-99.

2. AWASH 2010, ‘Salt can damage your health’, retrieved 10 Oct 2011.

3. He, FJ, MacGregor, GA 2009, ‘A comprehensive review on salt and health and current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes’, JHH, vol. 23, pp. 363-94.

4. WHO/FAO 2002, ‘Joint WHO/FAO expert consultation on diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases’, retrieved 10 Oct 2011.

5. Appel, LJ, Frohlich, ED, Hall, JE, Pearson, TA, Sacco, RL, Seals, DR et al. 2011, ‘The importance of population-wide sodium reduction as a means to prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke: a call to action from the American Heart Association’, JAHA, vol. 123, pp. 1138-43.

6. WHO 2006, ‘Reducing salt intake in populations: Report of a WHO forum and technical meeting 5-7 October 2006, Paris, France’, retrieved 10 Oct 2011.

7. Webster, J 2011, ‘Action on salt will mean longer, healthier lives’, retrieved 10 Oct 2011.

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