Globally, We're Eating Too Much Salt

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • You’ve heard the old adage that someone is worth their salt. Well, new research indicates that our salt intake actually may be compromising the health of people around the world because we're eating too much.

    A new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2013 Scientific Sessions looked at the amount of salt consumed around the word globally. The researchers reviewed 247 surveys of adult sodium intake in order to determine the level, which was classified by age, gender, region and nation between 1990 and 2010. This effort was part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, an international collaborative study by almost 500 scientists representing 303 institutions located in 50 nations.

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    The researchers found that people around the world consumed nearly 4,000 milligrams of sodium daily in 2010. This salt came from a variety of sources, including table salt and soy sauce added when cooking as well as commercially prepared food. In comparison, the American Heart Association recommends that people limit the amount of sodium they consumed to less than 1,500 milligrams a day (which is the equivalent of less than 1 teaspoon of table salt). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a slightly higher amount at less than 2,000 milligrams a day.

    The researchers’ analysis found that 181 of 187 countries exceeded the WHO’s recommendations. Those countries represent 99 percent of the world’s population.  Furthermore, 119 countries exceeded the WHO recommendation by more than 1,000 milligrams of salt per day. That figure represents 88 percent of the world’s population.

     The highest sodium intake was in Kazakhstan, where residents consumed a daily amount of 6,000 milligrams, which was three times the WHO recommendation. Residents from two other countries – Mauritius and Uzbekistan – consumed just below the 6,000 milligram amount daily.

    Residents of Kenya and Malawi consumed the lowest daily amounts at approximately 2,000 milligrams per day. Furthermore, Kenya was the only country that had an average consumption that met the American Heart Association’s recommended daily allotment. In comparison, the United States’ daily consumption by individual was right around 3,600 milligrams a day.

    So what can you use to flavor foods in order to lower your salt intake? Harvard University’s School of Public Health recommends the following:

    • Herbs and spices – These flavorings not only can help flavor foods, they also often have health benefits. Some research has indicated these substances may help with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So where do you get these flavorings? I have flower pots full of a variety of herbs -- thyme, sage, rosemary, chives and oregano in my courtyard to use to flavor foods (and just purchased basil to plant for the summer). But if you don’t have these available, you can definitely use dried versions of these herbs. Spices such as cinnamon, curry, nutmeg, saffron or paprika also can add a tasty element to your foods.
    • Citrus oils and peel – Lemon juice, lime juice and orange juice can add a jolt of citrus to foods. In addition, you can use the zest from the peel to add flavor and aroma to a dish.
    • Oils and vinegars - You can use oils such as olive oil along with citrus, herbs and spices to make a marinade. (For instance, I just did one the other day with chicken that used olive oil and basil pesto that was rather tasty). Other fragrant oils can add interest to meals, such as sesame oil, walnut oil or pumpkin seed oil. Vinegars also come in a wide variety of tastes, such as balsamic vinegar and champagne vinegar. You also can find flavored vinegars, like tarragon vinegar.
    • Reduced- or No-Sodium Salt – These salt substitutes use potassium chloride, which tastes similar to sodium chloride. The Harvard School of Public Health warns that this type of salt isn’t recommended for cooking since it displays a bitter aftertaste after being heated. Be aware that sodium-free substitutes are 100 percent potassium chloride while “lite” salts have up to 50 percent of the table salt replaced with potassium chloride. You need to check with your doctor prior to trying one of these salt substitutes, since they can be dangerous for people who are taking medications that can increase potassium levels in the blood stream or who have trouble flushing excess potassium from their systems.

    As I've noted above, there are ways to lower your salt intake and protect your cardiovascular health. Try a few of these methods and you can still enjoy your food while protecting your cardiovascular system.

  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Heart Association. (2013). Adults worldwide eat almost double daily AHA recommended amount of sodium. American Heart Association Meeting Report.

    Anderson, J., et al. (2012).  Sodium in the diet. Colorado State University Extension.

    Harvard School of Public Health. (nd.) Salt substitutes. Harvard University.

Published On: March 22, 2013

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