Health Tip: Put Down that Salt Shaker

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Growing evidence shows cutting back on salt consumption reduces blood pressure and, in turn, the risk of stroke and heart disease. Two new studies show that a reduction in salt intake may help blood pressure and one recent report finds that lower potassium consumption is linked to higher blood pressure.

Based on information in these investigations, the World Health Organization is now recommending individuals reduce their salt consumption to less than one teaspoon per day. Feng He, PhD, a senior research fellow at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and his colleagues led one of the studies. This team examined the effects of modest salt reduction on blood pressure, hormones, and blood fats (lipids) from 34 trials involving over 3,000 adults. Dr. He and his team concluded that modest reduction in salt for four or more weeks led to significant drops in blood pressure in people with both elevated and normal blood pressure.

The current recommendations to reduce salt intake from 9-12 to 5-6 grams per day will have a major effect on blood pressure, but a further reduction to 3 grams [less than a teaspoon] per day will have a greater effect and should become the long-term target for population salt intake, according to the authors of this study.

A related study also linked increased Potassium with lower blood pressure in adults. This study was based on 33 trials and involved over 128,000 healthy participants. Potassium is found in most fresh fruits and vegetables and legumes. The results show that increased potassium intake reduces blood pressure in adults, with no adverse effects on blood lipids, hormone levels or kidney function. Higher potassium intake was linked with a 24 percent lower risk of stroke in adults and may also have a beneficial effect on blood pressure in children. The research also suggested an increased benefit with simultaneous reduction in salt intake.

Based on these studies, the World Health Organization recommends reducing dietary salt intake to 5 grams (about one teaspoon) per person per day. Salt intake in many countries is currently much higher than this. The WHO believes such a strategy will save millions of lives every year from heart disease and stroke.

Most people would be shocked to know just how much salt is in their diet. The truth is only about 15 percent of our sodium intake comes from the saltshaker. The rest is hidden in processed snack foods, restaurant meals, pasta sauces, soup, lunchmeats, even bread and other baked goods. More than 90 percent of Americans—kids included—eat too much salt. When it comes to potassium, it’s easy to get plenty by eating the recommended 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

The studies were published online in April in BMJ — British Medical Journal.

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