A new study has found that if Americans cut down on their daily sodium intake, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved (and prolonged) over the next decade.
On average, Americans consume about 3600 milligrams of salt per day, the equivalent of about a teaspoon and a half. Sound like wayyyyyyy more than you put on your dinner? That’s because about 80% of this comes from sodium that is added to processed foods like microwave dinners, snack foods, nutrition bars, even sweets. Current dietary guidelines recommend that we eat about no more than 2300 mg of salt per day, and about 1500 for people who are over 50 or have diabetes, kidney disease, or high blood pressure.
Eating too much salt contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a leading factor in heart disease, stroke and other vascular conditions. See what I’m getting at here? Less salt, less high blood pressure, less heart disease. Study authors figured out that gradually lowering sodium intake could save huge amounts of American lives: lowering by 40% over 10 years could save an estimated 280,000 to 500,000 lives. But a more drastic lowering of 50% instantly (so, from 3600 mg to 1300 mg per day) could save up 500,000 to 850,000 lives.
Lead study author Pamela Coxson said:
These findings strengthen our understanding that sodium reduction is beneficial to people at all ages. Even small, gradual reductions in sodium intake would result in substantial mortality benefits across the population.
In the journal of Hypertension, study authors wrote that it will be difficult to lower the sodium intake of most of the population,but that reducing sodium in prepared foods over time could help:
Public health approaches that target lower levels of added sodium in these products through a combination of regulation, consumer education and food labeling; voluntary partnership with food manufacturers; and federal, state and local procurement policies that reinforce healthy diets may bring about gradual lowering in the average sodium consumption among U.S. adults.
This is serious stuff. If the projections from this study are right, this means that sodium intake is a direct factor in the deaths of thousands of people per year. It’s common knowledge that things like smoking, fast food and lack of exercise are linked to hypertension, but I know I don’t personally think much about my sodium intake at all; I’ve always felt like that’s something for older people and people with health conditions to worry about. I love salt and I put it on my cooking freely…not even considering the massive amounts I’m probably eating in my store-bought bread, crackers and other foods. But this study has made me look at my own sodium intake in a different light.