For the first time in its history, the World Health Organization (WHO) will publish a report on the effectiveness of public policies to reduce salt intake worldwide. This is crucial because something as simple as eating less sodium every day can prolong life and reduce the incidence of disease.
According to some historians, our Paleolithic ancestors ate less than 1 gram (g) of sodium per day. Today, the average for mankind is 4 g per day. Clearly, the habits of modernity have brought an excess.
Salt was an ideal preservation method in the absence of refrigerators. It was also a valuable commodity that fixed wages. Today, buying it is easy and inexpensive. But we not only come into contact with it in its table salt variant, but there is also sodium in the ultra-processed products displayed on the shelves.
Why is it important to reduce salt intake?
The reduction of salt intake is based on the attempt to limit the incorporation of sodium into the body. The table salt that we add as seasoning is composed of sodium and chlorine. The first of these components has a direct influence on blood pressure values.
Therefore, scientific studies establish that reducing sodium in the diet prevents arterial hypertension (AHT). In fact, patients living with AHT are medically instructed not to add salt to their meals. This is part of their treatment.
The same researchers have not found sufficient evidence that reducing sodium intake reduces all-cause mortality. Even so, controlling blood pressure is a valid method to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
In this context, we must understand that the key point is sodium, beyond salt. If we do not add table salt to our dishes, but we buy ultra-processed products that refer to a high percentage of sodium on their label, then the final effect will be equally harmful.
A study in Brazil found that people who consumed more ultra-processed products had the following characteristics:
- A total salt intake per day above the recommended values.
- Higher sodium output through urine.
- Elevated cardiovascular risk.
- Increased tendency to be overweight.
So, reducing salt intake, even if we do not reach the WHO recommendation, will be beneficial. Now we tell you how we can do it with simple measures.
Tips to reduce sodium in our shopping
When we go to the supermarket or to the store, we can make decisions that help us to limit the sodium that will be available at home. For example:
- Buy fresh vegetables and not those that come canned. Canneries add a lot of salt for proper preservation.
- Read the nutritional labeling. In almost all countries, there is an obligation to inform the sodium content of the packaged product. Also, several States have incorporated black labels that identify foods with an excess of the mineral.
- In countries where there is also a “healthy” label for packaged foods, as is the case in the United States, it is appropriate to prefer them to other options. This label implies a low sodium content.
- Meats should also be bought fresh, whatever the animal. Canned and cured meats and sausages, as well as frozen foods, have a high proportion of salt.
Do not be fooled by advertisements. Learn to read labels and try to take a critical look while shopping at the supermarket.
Special care should be taken with children. In Argentina, for example, surveys on gondola foods aimed at children found that 97% of them had an inadequate nutritional composition: more than 70% of added sugars and more than 27% of the recommended limit of sodium for the age.
Tips to reduce salt intake at home
Once at home and with the shopping already done, it is essential to implement simple measures that force us to limit sodium in the diet. To do so, we can follow the following tips:
- Season without salt. It is difficult, especially in cultural environments where table salt is omnipresent. But you can opt for spices that replace it and enhance the flavor of the preparations. In addition, ingredients such as cardamom, for example, are associated with improved metabolism and reduced cardiovascular risk.
- Increase the proportion of fruits and vegetables in your meals. This will lead you to reduce ultra-processed foods and, in turn, you will incorporate more potassium, which is a mineral capable of balancing the effects of sodium in the body.
- When preparing pasta, don’t use the fast food versions of pasta. The traditional way, with the dried noodles placed in the pot, is the healthiest way. On the contrary, dehydrated pastas to make in the microwave or in less than 3 minutes, contain large amounts of salt.
- Dressings are high in sodium. Do not abuse commercial sauces, mayonnaise or mustard added to sandwiches.
- Take the salt shaker off the table. And take it out of reach in the kitchen. If you have it nearby, then you will use it and add to your preparations without measuring the limits.
Not everyone agrees with WHO
The WHO’s approach to reduce sodium intake below 2 g per day is not approved by all scientific groups. Some experts consider it a difficult limit to apply in world populations, as the current pace of life is alien to this purpose.
However, the benefits are evident at the cardiac level. And this is no small matter. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reminds us that cardiovascular deaths remain the leading cause of mortality in the world. It is not about making big changes, but small modifications that have a huge effect on our future.
Reducing salt intake is within reach. Let’s start by buying better, read labels, take the salt shaker off the table and reduce blood pressure.