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Salt is normally composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. When people say that salt is bad for you, they think about sodium. Although Sodium consumption is necessary for an efficient balance of liquids in our body, excessive consumption can lead to serious diseases. Recommended daily consumption of sodium is about 2,4g per day (6 grams of table salt). The average consumption is twice as high. Following the World Health Organization, high consumption of sodium increases blood pressure, which then is the first cause of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks.

Article: “Sodium Intake and Hypertension” 

“Don’t put too much salt, the doctor says it’s bad for you” is an all too familiar phrase. How can salt be such an enemy when it has been present in every of our meals since we were born? In the next few lines, we will detail why sodium has such a bad reputation and why we should control our consumption.

80% of the sodium we consume is being added in our food by the industry. We call this the “hidden consumption”. Consumers added the remaining 20% during cooking and eating. Following Euromonitor, the main source of sodium for an adult are cereals and cereal products, including bread. Second come meat and meat products, with bacon and ham leading the category. Sauces, dressings and condiments along with soups and pickles are included in “others”.

Human beings are believed to be programmed to eat and metabolize both plant and animal foods. It is believed that the genetic program, which has remained essentially unchanged for at least the past 100000 years, is best compatible with unprocessed mixed foods. According to this hypothesis, marked man-made changes in the composition of foods and diets would cause, or at least predispose to, a number of pathologic conditions, including elevated blood pressure.

The sodium content of a daily diet, composed of ingredients not artificially enriched by salt, ranges between 0,23g and 0,8g. It is almost impossible to compose a diet consisting of unprocessed natural foodstuffs to provide sodium in excess of 1.2 g a day. Therefore, on the basis of the variation of sodium content in diets consisting of natural foodstuffs without artificial additions, one could expect that our genetic mechanisms are programmed to sodium intake levels that are lower than 1.2 g a day.

Blood pressure serves 2 important functions in the body. One is maintenance of tissue perfusion. The other important and extremely potent function is control of sodium balance, which largely determines the extracellular fluid volume. By increasing the blood pressure level, the body is able to get rid of excess sodium and water. This explains how the high sodium diets can have the effect of increased blood pressure.

In the mid-90s an action group, Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), was set up in the UK, consisting of leading experts on salt and blood pressure in the UK. CASH was successful in persuading the UK government to invite the Food Standards Agency to develop a salt reduction programme, working in collaboration with CASH. As 80% of the salt that is consumed in the UK is put there by the food industry i.e. in processed foods, fast foods, canteen and restaurant foods etc, the public have no choice about eating it. Therefore progressive incremental targets to limit the amount of salt for each food category were set, which the industry had to achieve in a specified time. Reductions first started in 2003 and are continuing to this day. Most products in the supermarket have now been reduced from 20 to 40%. These reductions have been made slowly, and there have been no loss of sales to the food industry, and the public are largely unaware of these reductions.

Between 2003 and 2011 in the UK, blood pressure was measured in the Health Survey for England using a standardised protocol using the same validated electronic sphygmomanometer. Blood pressure fell in the adult population by 3mm Hg systolic and 1.4mm Hg diastolic (P <0.0001). As part of this fall could be attributed to better treatment in those who have high blood pressure, the study then looked at individuals who were not on any drug treatment for blood pressure and a correction was made for all other variables that could have influenced blood pressure, apart from salt. There was still a fall in adult population blood pressure of 2.7mm Hg systolic/ 1.1mm Hg diastolic. This reduction in blood pressure can therefore be attributed to the fall in salt intake.

From the Office for National Statistics, which records deaths, over the same time period 2003 – 2011, stroke and heart disease deaths have fallen by 42% and 40% respectively. Several other risk factors for cardiovascular disease other than salt intake have also changed for the better during this time, including a reduction in smoking and cholesterol, however average body mass index (BMI) rose. Nevertheless it can be concluded that the fall in salt intake that led to a fall in blood pressure will have played an important role in both stroke and heart disease deaths. Indeed from this fall in blood pressure that has occurred, we can predict that approximately 18,000 stroke and heart attacks have been prevented each year – 9,000 of which are fatal.

Salt reduction is already known to be the most cost-effective public health intervention in the UK. The National Institute for Health & Care Excellence calculated in 2011 that the salt reduction programme had already resulted in £1.5bn health care saving costs in the UK, at a cost of only £5m per year.

Of the estimated 57 million global deaths in 2008, an astonishing 30% are due to cardiovascular diseases. It is projected that the annual number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease will grow from 17 million in 2008 to 25 million in 2030. The World Health Organization considers that those numbers could be reduced by half by proper prevention. As the first cause of high blood pressure, excessive Sodium consumption is at the heart of this prevention strategy.

“It has been estimated that raised blood pressure causes 51% of stroke deaths and 45% of coronary heart disease deaths.” World Health Organization

For more inforation see article

Sodium consumption increases thirst

Thirst, which causes water or beverage intakes, is an unavoidable physiologic response to the ingestion of foods with high salt content. A linear increase in the intake of water or beverages has been demonstrated when someone is eating salty food. Drinking water doesn’t increase the intake of calories, but drinking carbonated drinks certainly does.

1g of Sodium in your body retains 100ml of water

High consumption of salt causes your body to retain water. Conversely, low consumption of salt can result in weight loss as it causes your body to expel water. It is interesting to note that many crash diets which boast quick weight loss rely on foods with little or no salt content.