Constantly adding salt to your food? It’s not a good thing, study finds
Adding salt to foods was linked to premature death from causes such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary heart disease and cancer, Tulane University researchers found.
Researchers from Tulane University have found that frequently adding salt to food is associated with premature death from causes such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary heart disease and cancer.
Adding salt to foods also was linked to a reduction in life expectancy, according to a new study they did that was published in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal.
The researchers wanted to find out whether the frequency of adding salt to foods affects death and life expectancy. They documented 18,474 premature deaths.
How often people add salt to their food is an unusual behavior to measure, said Dr. Lu Qi, a professor in Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine who is director of the university’s Obesity Research Center.
“This study addressed a very special behavior related to sodium intake,” said Qi, who led the study. “That means we can conveniently modify the behavior to reduce sodium intake.”
Early death, or are people just using more salt?
“I think really the findings are simply people that are using more salt on their food, they may likely have a higher BMI, they may likely have a less healthier lifestyle, and those things are more directly linked to premature mortality, as opposed to putting salt on your food,” said Drew Hays, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who wasn’t involved in the study.
The researchers also noted an interesting finding about potassium: Risks were reduced slightly in people who consumed the most fruit and vegetables because of the potassium they contain.
The study contains multiple limitations, including the absence of information on just how much salt people added to food. Also, UK Biobank is voluntary, so the results are not representative of the general population, the researchers noted.
Qi said another limitation is that the responses were self-reported.
“The more convincing data should come from clinical trials,” he said. That might “provide better evidence to meet any science and health outcomes. In the future, clinical trials are needed to validate and confirm our findings.”
What’s the healthiest salt substitute?
The study’s findings about potassium stood out to Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical professor at Boston University’s College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences.
“Once again, we have findings about the health benefits of consuming more potassium-rich fruits and veggies to the diet,” said Blake, who hosts the nutrition and health podcast “Spot On!”
She said American adults are consuming less than the minimum two and a half cups of veggies and two cups of fruit recommended daily.
She also said dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day as part of a healthy eating pattern but that, on average, Americans consume slightly over 3,500 milligrams daily.
She recommends no-salt-added seasoning blends to flavor foods as well as eating more whole fruits and vegetables.
“Produce will not only add flavor to your meals ... but it will also provide the health benefits of potassium,” she said. “That’s getting two health benefits for the price of one by making this meal-time change.”
For folks wanting a salt alternative, Hays recommends a “controversial substitute” — monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
Some people have reported headaches, sweating, face pressure or tightness and other symptoms after eating it, but researchers have found no clear proof of a link between the commonly used flavor enhancer and these symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Hays said MSG contains sodium, but those who use it don’t need as much since it is so powerful.
If possible, Hays said people should try to eat half a plate of fresh fruits and vegetables, and don’t overlook whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
“Think about building a plate that is plant-forward,” she said.
How the study was done
The researchers defined premature death as death before the age of 75 and looked at data from 501,379 people who participated in a long-term biobank study in the United Kingdom.
Urine samples were collected among 481,565 participants, but the researchers said urine tests aren’t the most foolproof measurement because an individual’s salt intake can change daily.
The team analyzed questionnaire responses from participants and grouped them based on how often they said they add salt to food: never/rarely, sometimes, usually or always.
They considered factors that could impact health outcomes like age, sex, race, deprivation, body mass index, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, diet and medical conditions and followed the participants for an average of nine years.
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