A new study indicates that those who add more salt to their food are likely to be at risk of premature death. The study of more than five lakh people published in the European Heart Journal noted that in comparison to those who never or rarely added salt to their food, those who did regularly were at a 28 per cent higher risk of premature death. Notably, the study looked at the frequency of adding additional salt to foods but did not include salt used in cooking.
From 501,379 participants as part of the UK Biobank project, participants were asked via a touch-screen questionnaire if they added salt to their food — I never/rarely, (ii) occasionally, (iii) generally, (iv) always, or (v) prefer not to answer when they joined the study between 2006 and 2010. The analysis did not include those who would rather not respond.
The study also found that persons who always added salt had shorter life expectancies than those who never or sometimes did. Women and men who always added salt had life expectancies that were 1.5 years and 2.28 years shorter at the age of 50, respectively.
The study concluded, “Our findings indicate that higher frequency of adding salt to foods is associated with a higher hazard of all-cause premature mortality and lower life expectancy.”
Adding salt to foods (usually at the table) is a common eating behavior directly related to an individual’s long-term preference to salty taste foods and habitual salt intake, noted the study author Professor Lu Qi of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, USA.
According to Prof Qi, in Western diet, adding salt at the table accounts for 6–20 per cent of total salt intake. In addition, the commonly used table salt contains 97–99 per cent sodium chloride, minimising the potential confounding effects of other dietary factors including potassium. “Therefore, adding salt to foods provides a unique assessment to evaluate the association between habitual sodium intake and mortality. However, very few studies have investigated the association between the frequency of adding salt to foods and mortality,” he said.
Why is excessive salt consumption a concern?
According to World Health Organization (WHO), most people consume an average 9–12 grams of salt per day or approximately twice the recommended maximum level, especially as some people have a habit of sprinkling salt onto their food during meal time.
“It is advisable for an adult to consume less than five grams of salt daily as it helps to reduce blood pressure, risk of stroke, coronary heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases,” said Dr Pradip Shah, General Physician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
Excessive salt consumption increases the chances of high blood pressure, and may damage the heart and kidneys which may reduce life span, said Dr Altamash Shaikh, consultant endocrinologist, diabetologist and metabolic super-specialist, Masina Hospital, Mumbai. He added that any amount of extra salt or table salt or any type/source of salt may be harmful, and also said that it can also lead to higher risk of osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and increase water retention levels in the body.
What can be done?
Dr Shah asserted that it’s important to keep one’s salt consumption within limits (around 5 grams per day) to stay healthy and disease-free. “Consume more fruits and vegetables instead of processed food. Also, try to cook with less salt or experiment with different herbs and ingredients,” he said, sharing some alternatives: lemon, vinegar, spices, herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, and kokam.