According to a new study, more than two million deaths worldwide are linked to consuming too much salt. A Harvard research team found that one in 10 Americans dies from eating too much salt.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues collected 247 surveys on sodium intake. They used 107 clinical trials that measured how salt affects blood pressure and how blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular diseases like strokes and heart attacks.
“The burden of sodium is much higher than the burden of sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Dr. Mozaffarian said. “That’s because sugar-sweetened beverages are just one type of food that people can avoid, whereas sodium is in everything.”
He pointed out that one of three deaths due to excessive sodium intake occurs before age 70.
“From that we could determine the health effects of sodium,” he added. “It’s really affecting younger adults, not just the elderly.”
The same research team also published research linking sugary drinks to 25,000 U.S. deaths per year. But they found salt is more dangerous.
This new study was one of many presented at the American Heart Association Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.
Another study reported that 75 percent of packaged toddler meals contain too much salt. Toddlers getting more than the suggested amount of salt per day is associated with hypertension in adulthood.
Overall, research at the conference is showing packaged and processed foods with long shelf lives and high sodium content can place a heavy toll on cardiovascular health. Mozaffarian said avoiding salt can be very tricky and requires doing all of the cooking yourself. Bread and cheese, he said, are the main two sources of salt in the American diet.
The Salt Institute took issue with the study. Citing the fact that it has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, they said it “reveals an agenda far more rooted in sensationalist politics than in science.”
“This misleading study did not measure any actual cardiovascular deaths related to salt intake, since, by the authors’ own admission, no country anywhere in the world consumes the low levels of salt they recommend,” said Morton Satin, vice president of science and research at Virginia-based the Salt Institute.
“The Salt Institute does not consider this misleading modeling exercise helpful in furthering our knowledge of the role of salt on our health,” Satin added. “On the contrary, it is disingenuous and disrespectful of consumers.”
Mozaffarian denied having an agenda and hopes that the research will help policy makers make informed decisions about sodium limits in prepared foods.
“We have no vested interest in what the research shows,” he said. “This is not sensational. The point is to objectively look at the impact of salt using the best possible science, and that’s what we have done.”