In the quest for a healthier heart, experts are shedding light on a simple yet transformative lifestyle change – reducing salt intake. Beyond just a culinary preference, excessive salt consumption has been linked to a myriad of health issues, with heart disease taking centre-stage.

Salt, a staple in our diets, is a flavour enhancer that often goes unnoticed. However, its impact on cardiovascular health is significant. The excessive intake of sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure, a key precursor to heart disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1.89 million deaths annually worldwide are attributed to high sodium consumption.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally. An estimated 17.8 million people died from CVDs in 2017, representing approximately 32 per cent of all deaths worldwide. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk for CVDs, especially heart attack and stroke.

Evidence shows that reducing sodium intake significantly reduces blood pressure in adults. Sodium is found not only in table salt, but also naturally in a variety of foods, including milk, cream, eggs, meat and shellfish. It is also found in much high amounts in processed foods, such as breads, crackers, processed meats like bacon and snack foods such as pretzels, cheese puffs and popcorn, as well as in condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, and bouillon or stock cubes.

One of the primary mechanisms through which excess salt impacts heart health is by elevating blood pressure. The relationship between sodium and blood pressure is intricate, but the consensus among health professionals is clear – reducing salt intake can help maintain blood pressure within a healthy range. This, in turn, lowers the risk of developing heart-related complications.

High blood pressure, when left unchecked, initiates a cascade of events within the cardiovascular system. Arteries become strained, and the heart works harder to pump blood, ultimately increasing the likelihood of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues. By breaking this vicious cycle through mindful salt reduction, individuals can interrupt the progression of heart disease.

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WHO recommends a reduction in sodium intake to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults.

For adults, WHO recommends less than 2,000 mg/day of sodium (equivalent to less than 5 g/day salt (just under a teaspoon). For children aged 2–15 years, WHO recommends adjusting the adult dose downward, based on their energy requirements. This recommendation for children does not address the period of exclusive breastfeeding (0–6 months) or complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding (6–24 months).

All salt that is consumed should be iodized (fortified with iodine), which is essential for healthy brain development in the foetus and young child and optimizing people’s mental function in general.

WHO recommends a number of sodium-related best buy policies as practical actions that countries should undertake promptly to prevent cardiovascular disease and its associated costs. These include lowering of sodium content in foods; implementing front-of-pack labelling; mass media campaigns; and public food procurement and service.

Experts advise staying well-hydrated, as proper fluid balance can help regulate sodium levels in the body, while encouraging other lifestyle practices like experimenting with herbs and spices to add flavour without relying on excessive salt, choosing fresh foods which are generally lower in sodium over processed foods, and avoiding the temptation to add extra salt at the table.

Beyond the individual level, the societal impact of reducing salt intake is profound. A population committed to lowering sodium consumption can potentially alleviate the burden on healthcare systems, redirecting resources towards preventive measures rather than treating heart-related ailments. So, let’s savor the flavor of life with a pinch less salt, paving the way for a heart-healthy tomorrow.