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We Are Eating Too Much Salt?

Salt has been added to foods for centuries - first as a preserving agent and then to add flavour. Many spoilage organisms have a low tolerance to salt, so using salt to preserve fish, meat and many canned goods is very common. Salt is the crystalline cube shaped product of two very toxic chemicals - sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl). Salt can come from mines or it can be produced by evaporating ocean water. In some countries iodine is added to table salt as away of preventing goiters that are caused by iodine deficiency. It is generally recognized that the majority of sodium chloride consumed is derived from amounts added during food processing and preparation, including in home preparation.


Health officials for some time have warned about the adverse effects of consuming too much salt. The most common link of salt to health is its apparent effect on blood pressure. An excessive intake of salt is believed to be related to the development of hypertension; the additional salt causes an increase in the blood plasma volume and a rise in blood pressure.

In some jurisdictions, salt has become the new target, especially when studies compare actual salt intake to recommended or suggested intakes. However, in Canada there appears to be some doubt. An article published in the Canadian Medical Association journal that reviewed all of the published data related to dietary salt and hypertension came to the following conclusions:

  • Restriction of salt intake for the normotensive population is not recommended at present, because of insufficient evidence demonstrating that this would lead to a reduced incidence of hypertension
  • To avoid excessive intake of salt, people should be counselled to choose foods low in salt (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables), to avoid foods high in salt (e.g., pre-prepared foods), to refrain from adding salt at the table and minimize the amount of salt used in cooking, and to increase awareness of the salt content of food choices in restaurants.
  • For hypertensive patients, particularly those over the age of 44 years, it is recommended that the intake of dietary sodium be moderately restricted, to a target range of 90-130 mmol per day (which corresponds to 3-7 g of salt per day).

It must be admitted that for some people, reduction of salt may beneficial. But for many who have normal blood pressures, there may not be any effect on blood pressure.


Lifestyle modifications to prevent and control hypertension.
CMJ 1999,160:S29-S34

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