(ORDO NEWS) — Adding salt to your meals at the dinner table is associated with an increased risk of early death from all causes, according to a new study of more than 500,000 people.
In fact, according to a study, constantly touching the salt shaker at the table can increase a person’s risk of premature death by as much as 28 percent.
Their life expectancy may also suffer: at age 50, women and men who always added more salt had their life expectancy reduced by 1.5 and 2.28 years, respectively, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.
“To my knowledge, our study is the first to evaluate the association between salt addition to food and premature death,” lead researcher Professor Lu Qi said in a statement.
“This provides new evidence to support recommendations for changing eating behavior to improve health.
Even modest reductions in sodium intake by adding less or no salt to meals at the table are likely to result in significant health benefits.”
Estimating human salt intake is difficult. Many foods (especially processed ones) are already high in salt before we add our own seasonings.
Although urine tests can give an indication of salt intake, they do not reflect total intake. Therefore, the study authors chose to use table salt additions in their analysis, not including salt added during cooking.
In Western countries, about 70 percent of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, and 8 to 20 percent can be attributed to salt added at the table.
“Adding salt to food at the table is a common eating behavior that is directly related to a person’s long-term preference for salt-tasting food and habitual salt intake,” Qi said.
“It provides a unique way to assess the association between habitual sodium intake and risk of death.”
The findings are based on data from 501,379 people who participated in the British Biobank study between 2006 and 2010 and were followed up for an average of nine years. Each of them filled out a questionnaire asking how often they added salt to their food: never/rarely, sometimes, usually or always.
After controlling for other factors that can influence the results, including age, gender, diet, and pre-existing medical conditions, the researchers found an increased risk of premature death before age 75 in people who always preferred more salt, compared with those who rarely or never didn’t do it.
As for what this could mean for public health, the researchers are careful not to get ahead of themselves:
“Further studies are needed to confirm the findings before making recommendations,” Qi said.
Such recommendations are difficult to make on an individual basis, said Annika Rosengren, professor at the University of Gothenburg, who was not involved in the study. We cannot completely eliminate salt from our diet.
Rosengren said a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help offset the harmful effects of salt on both individuals and populations.
This is supported by a study that also showed that the risk of premature death was reduced in people who ate the most fruits and vegetables, although the results were not statistically significant.
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