Think you’re doing your body good by not sprinkling extra salt on your meals? You probably are, but that won't stop too much sodium from sneaking into your diet.
According to a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, consuming too much salt is responsible for more than 1.6 million cardiovascular-related deaths annually. When people eat more than 2,000 mg (or 2g) of sodium per day, the effects can be devastating. A maximum of 2,000 mg per day is the recommendation set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
"High sodium intake is known to increase blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in a press statement. He conducted the research during his tenure at Harvard School of Public Health.
Average Person Eats Twice as Much Salt as They Should
His team looked at data from 205 surveys measuring sodium intake from countries that account for about three-quarters of the world's adult population. They used that and other data to calculate sodium intake by country, sex, and age.
The results indicate that the average person eats 3.95g of sodium each day, almost double the 2g upper limit recommended by the WHO. People from every region in the world consumed more than recommended, ranging from those in sub-Saharan Africa at 2.18g per day up to 5.51g per day in Central Asia.
In the U.S., the average daily sodium consumption was 3.6g. According to the data, about 58,000 cardiovascular deaths each year in America can be linked to a daily sodium intake of more than 2g. Salt intake and its corresponding health burdens were even higher in many developing countries. The most significant impacts of high salt intake were seen in older adults, minority groups, and people who already had high blood pressure.
"These 1.65 million deaths represent nearly one in 10 deaths from cardiovascular causes worldwide. No world region and few countries were spared," Mozaffarian said, calling for new policies to lower sodium in diets around the world.
What Can You Do to Cut Your Salt Intake?
Sharon Palmer, RDN, a Los Angeles-based dietitian and author of "Plant-Powered for Life," said that everyone needs to be aware of their sodium intake.
“For some reason, sodium has never resonated with the public in the way that other nutrition issues have, such as sugar, carbs, fat, and even the new fad of avoiding gluten with no medical necessity,” she said.
Palmer said the main problem is not table salt. About 75 percent of the excess sodium we consume comes from processed and pre-prepared foods.
“And since we increasingly rely on these foods instead of cooking ourselves, our sodium intake is high,” she said, adding that restaurant meals can have more than enough sodium in them to account for a whole day’s recommended intake.
For example, canned soups, rice mixes, and frozen pizzas can contain 1,000 mg of salt per serving or more, Palmer said.
“People need to realize that they can make an impact on their health by helping prevent high blood pressure — which can protect you from a number of conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, and even kidney disease — through their diet,” she said. “Reducing sodium is a key factor in this.”
She recommends the DASH diet for lowering blood pressure because it involves wholesome foods like low-fat dairy, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
“Sodium intake is far too high in most of the world, causing hundreds of thousands of excess deaths, and people everywhere should demand strong policies from their governments to reduce sodium in the food supply,” Mozaffarian said.