Salt debate: You need just a pinch
the harmful effects of sodium – high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis (irreversible liver damage) and chronic kidney disease, among others — affected only communities in China, where the liberal use of soy sauce pushed sodium levels to more than 5 gms a day.
Similar findings by the same team of researchers published in The Lancet in 2016 were called flawed and rejected by many scientists and associations, including the American Heart Association.
The average salt intake in India is 10.98 gms a day, according to a systematic review of 21 studies and surveys done in India between 1986 and 2014 published in the Journal of Hypertension last year.
How much salt people across India consume varies widely, ranging between 5.22 gms and 42.3 gms per day, found the study, which concluded that there was no doubt that population salt consumption in the country far exceeded the Who-recommended maximum of 5 gms per day.
Several studies have shown that lowering salt in the diet protects health. According to a review of studies covering over 170,000 people published in The BMJ, eating less than 5 gms of salt a day reduces risk of stroke by 23% and heart disease by 17%. The World Heart Federation estimates that reducing salt intake to 5 gms a day would prevent 3 million deaths due to heart disease and 1.25 million from stroke worldwide each year.
People who eat packaged foods invariably end up eating unhealthy amounts of salt, which is added to processed and packaged foods to enhance taste, give texture and bind in water to add bulk to the product.
In middle-class homes, more than half of the dietary salt consumed comes from hidden sources such as processed foods, be it bread, processed meat (cold cuts and sausages), cheese, biscuits, cookies, cakes and packaged munches like chips, salties and savoury mixes.
Nutritional labels list the amount of sodium, not the higher salt content. To get the salt content in a packaged food, multiply the sodium value listed with 2.5. Foods labelled “low salt” must have less 120 mg of sodium per 100 gms.
In India, packaged food majors, including ITC, HUL, Nestle India, Britannia, Marico, MTR, Patanjali, Halidram’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz India, Bikano, MTR, Weikfield, Fieldfresh Foods and Baggry’s, have committed to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to voluntarily cut salt, sugar and fat in products by 2020.
It’s a step in the right direction but most people need to cut down on added salt by at least 30% to lower health risks. Having too little salt along with prescription medicines such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin Ii-receptor blockers prescribed for high blood pressure, kidney damage and heart failure may trigger severe electrolyte imbalance.
Shunning packaged food and eating home-cooked meals is the simplest way to eat salt in recommended amounts.