Adding raw salt to cooked food could reduce life expectancy by more than two years, study finds

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Men lose 1.5 years and women lose 2.28 years compared to those who never add salt

People who add extra salt to their food at the dining table are at higher risk of premature death, a major new study has found.

Researchers at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, US, analysed data from 500,000 adults who are part of the UK Biobank.

They found that those who always add salt to their food have a 28 per cent increased risk of dying early compared to those who never add extra salt.

At the age of 50, men lose 1.5 years and women lose 2.28 years compared to those who never, or rarely add the extra seasoning.

The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal on Monday 11 July, followed the participants’ eating habits over a period of nine years beginning between 2006 and 2010.

Researchers said the findings point to several public health implications.

To my knowledge, our study is the first to assess the relation between adding salt to foods and premature death,” lead author Professor Lu Qi said.

“Adding salt to foods at the table is a common eating behaviour that is directly related to an individual’s long-term preference for salty-tasting foods and habitual salt intake.

In the Western diet, adding salt at the table accounts for 6-20% of total salt intake and provides a unique way to evaluate the association between habitual sodium intake and the risk of death.”

Qi said the study provides novel evidence that modifying individual eating habits, such as reducing sodium intake, “is likely to result in substantial health benefits”.

While adding salt to your food was linked to a higher risk of premature death, researchers found the risk was reduced slightly in people who consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables.

We were not surprised by this finding as fruits and vegetables are major sources of potassium, which has protective effects and is associated with a lower risk of premature death,” Qi said.

Because our study is the first to report a relation between adding salt to foods and mortality, further studies are needed to validate the findings before making recommendations.”

While the US-based study surveyed a large quantity of people, it did have some limitations.

Participation in the UK Biobank is voluntary and therefore the results may not be representative of the general population.

Additionally, the study did not ask participants to specificy how much salt they were adding to their good.

Professor Annika Rosengren, a senior medical researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who was not involved in the study, said the effect of reducing salt consumption remains controversial.

“Given the various indications that a very low intake of sodium may not be beneficial, or even harmful, it is important to distinguish between recommendations on an individual basis and actions on a population level,” Rosengren said.

“The obvious and evidence-based strategy with respect to preventing cardiovascular disease in individuals is early detection and treatment of hypertension, including lifestyle modifications, while salt-reduction strategies at the societal level will lower population mean blood pressure levels, resulting in fewer people developing hypertension, needing treatment, and becoming sick.”

The NHS recommends that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt  the equivalent of about one teaspoon  per day.