Sprinkling less salt onto your food at the dinner table could cut your risk of an early death, according to scientists.
A new study published today suggested that shaking the habit may reduce your risk of heart disease, heart failure and strokes by a fifth.
Experts today called it an easy ‘sacrifice’.
Researchers tracked nearly 200,000 Britons aged from their 30s to 70s for almost a decade.
A new study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology revealed that shaking the habit could reduce your risk of heart disease, heart failure and coronary heart disease
Heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK, that’s more than 160,000 deaths each year or one every three minutes.
They kill nearly 900,000 Americans every year.
Consuming too much salt is a risk factor because it leads to water retention in the blood, which puts pressure on your vessels.
This raises your blood pressure and, in turn, increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
In an attempt to quantify the risk, researchers at Tulane University looked at the health records of 176,570 Britons.
Data included questionnaire responses on how much salt the participants added to their dinner — with the options of never/rarely, sometimes, usually or always.
Information on rates of cardiovascular disease was collected through their medical history, hospital admissions, death register data and a questionnaire.
At the start of the trial, none of the participants suffered from heart complications.
They were monitored for almost 12 years, on average.
The results, published in the in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed that there were almost 10,000 ‘events’, including strokes.
Analysis showed participants who added salt to their food less often were less likely to suffer from a heart complication.
Those who ‘never/rarely’ added the seasoning were 23 per cent less likely to suffer a cardiovascular problem, compared to those who reported ‘always’ adding it.
Meanwhile, those who only ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’ added salt were also at a lower risk — 21 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.
Further analysis of the results showed that those who never added salt and followed a diet to boost blood pressure health — known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) — had the lowest risk.
The diet is designed to prevent or treat high blood pressure and limits salt intake.
Food that is high in salt
As much as 85 per cent of the salt in our diets is already in our foods when we buy it.
The following foods are almost always high in salt:
- gravy granules
- salted and dry-roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- soy sauce
- stock cubes
- yeast extract
In the following foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties.
Comparing brands and nutrition labels can help you cut down on salt for these items:
- bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
- pasta sauces
- ready meals
- tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
- breakfast cereals
Those following DASH eat plenty of grains, vegetables and fruit, as well as some low-fat dairy products and lean meats.
Professor Lu Qi, a professor at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, said: ‘Overall, we found that people who don’t shake on a little additional salt to their foods very often had a much lower risk of heart disease events, regardless of lifestyle factors and pre-existing disease.
He added: ‘We also found that when patients combine a DASH diet with a low frequency of adding salt, they had the lowest heart disease risk.
‘This is meaningful as reducing additional salt to food, not removing salt entirely, is an incredibly modifiable risk factor that we can hopefully encourage our patients to make without much sacrifice.’
NHS guidelines say adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day and children should have even less.
But according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) on average, working age adults in England consume 8.4g a day.
Experts say we should also be checking food labels when food shopping to help cut down on salt.
Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the BHF, warned that up to 85 per cent of the salt in people’s diets is already included in the food when it is bought.
‘While it’s helpful to cut down by adding less at the table or in cooking, make a point of reading food labels to make the lowest salt choices when you’re shopping — not just for salty foods like bacon, ham, sauces and snacks, but also for everyday foods like bread and breakfast cereals,’ she said.
Ms Taylor added: ‘We know there is a relationship between salt intake and risk of high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease.
‘Cutting down on the salt we add is an important way we can help to keep our blood pressure under control and reduce our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.’
The scientists found the people who added the least amount of salt were more likely to be white, women, have a lower BMI, drink only a moderate amount of alcohol, less likely to be current smokers, and more physically active.
However, those who added less salt also had a higher prevalence of high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease and a lower prevalence of cancer.
But these participants were also more likely to eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, whole grains, low-fat dietary and less sugar-sweetened drinks or processed meats than those who added a lot of salt to their food.
Dr Sara Ghoneim, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, warned of the long-term health risks of having too much salt.
She said: ‘A major limitation of the study is the self-reported frequency of adding salt to foods and the enrolment of participants only from the UK, limiting generalisability to other populations with different eating behaviours.
‘The findings of the present study are encouraging and are poised to expand our understanding of salt-related behavioural interventions on cardiovascular health.’