If you thought salt isn’t so bad… well, it is.

Image credits: National Institute of Korean Language.

A new study studied the connection between salt consumption and heart failure risk. It was a follow-up study of 4,630 randomly selected men and women aged 25 to 64 from Finland. Participants filled in a self-evaluation questionnaire, and researchers measured their weight and height. They also took blood and urine samples and measured blood pressure, measuring the salt in the urine.

The study was followed up after 12 years, and salt intake was then compared with the risk of a heart accident. A clear correlation was observed between the two.

“High salt (sodium chloride) intake is one of the major causes of high blood pressure and an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke,” said Prof Pekka Jousilahti, research professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland. “In addition to CHD and stroke, heart failure is one of the major cardiovascular diseases in Europe and globally but the role of high salt intake in its development is unknown.”

This was a “correlation not causation” study, but this isn’t nearly the first time salt has been found to contribute to the overall risk of heart failure. In addition to other adverse effects, excessive salt consumption has long been associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The heart just doesn’t seem to like salt all that much. Two times more salt, two times more heart risk failure.

“People who consumed more than 13.7 grams of salt daily had a two times higher risk of heart failure compared to those consuming less than 6.8 grams,” he continued. “The optimal daily salt intake is probably even lower than 6.8 grams. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 5 grams per day and the physiological need is 2 to 3 grams per day.”

In most populations, average consumption is significantly higher than the limit, largely due to processed foods, most of which contain a lot of salt.

Processed foods contain most of the salt we consume, researchers warn. Image via Wikipedia.

So it’s best to keep total salt consumption under 5 grams a day, which is less than one teaspoon. But it’s not just about adding less salt to our food — studies show that about 80% of salt intake is in processed foods, and that’s much harder to reduce. The most straightforward way would be to reduce processed foods altogether — as numerous studies have shown them to be largely detrimental to human health.

The results were presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) 2017 Congress and have not yet been peer reviewed.

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