TORONTO: Salt may not be as damaging to health as is usually claimed, according to a new study which suggests campaigns to persuade people to cut down may only be worthwhile in countries with very high sodium consumption, such as China.
The World Health Organization recommends cutting sodium intake to no more than 2g a day – the equivalent of 5g of salt – because of the link to increased blood pressure, which is in turn implicated in stroke.
But a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday, which followed the diets of 95,767 participants in 18 countries, argues that regularly eating between 7.5g and 12.5g of salt (2g to 5g of sodium) a day makes little difference.
The authors go as far as claiming that very low levels, below 5g, of salt appeared to put people in the study at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, but this has been contested by other researchers.
People with moderate or average salt intake need not reduce their sodium intake for prevention of heart disease and stroke, suggests the study involving people from different parts of the world, including India.
For a vast majority of individuals, sodium consumption does not increase heart risks, except for those who eat more than five grams a day, the equivalent of 2.5 teaspoons of salt, showed the findings published in the journal The lancet.
Even those who consume a little more than five grams of salt a day, need not worry a lot as the study said that any health risk of sodium intake is virtually eliminated if people improve their diet quality by adding fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, potatoes, and other potassium rich foods.
China is the only country in the study where 80 per cent of communities have a sodium intake of more than five grams a day. In the other countries, the majority of the communities had an average sodium consumption of 3 to 5 grams a day (equivalent to 1.5 to 2.5 teaspoons of salt).
The body needs sodium but requirements are very low outside of hot climates – where sweating means salt is lost easily – and the effect of low levels is less clear.
“While low sodium intake does reduce blood pressure, at very low levels it may also have other effects, including adverse elevations of certain hormones associated with an increase in risk of death and cardiovascular diseases,” the study says.
Most previous studies on sodium intake had shown that heart disease and stroke were based on individual-level information.