According to a study, people who add extra salt to their food at the table are at higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause.
The research, involving more than 500,000 people, found that those who always add salt to their food have a 28% higher risk of dying prematurely compared to those who never or rarely add it.
Generally, about three out of every 100 people between the ages of 40 and 69 die prematurely in the general population.
Now new calculations from the study, published in the European Heart Journal, suggest that an additional person in 100 who adds salt to their food may die young.
The researchers also calculated how many years the extra salt eaters lost their lives compared to those who didn’t add salt.
At the age of 50 years, 1.5 years and 2.28 years were reduced to the life expectancy of women and men, respectively, who always added salt to their diet.
Chloe MacArthur, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We need some salt in our diet, but eating too much can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“While it is always important for people to be careful about adding too much salt to food, the vast majority of salt is already in food before we buy it, which means we are consuming more than we think.
“That’s why it’s important for the government to look at ways to encourage the food industry to reduce the amount of salt it puts in food, such as the salt tax recommended in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy.”
The new study was led by Professor Lu Qi of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, USA, with colleagues from Harvard medical schools.
He said: “Even a modest reduction in sodium intake, by adding less or no salt to foods at the table, is likely to result in substantial health benefits, especially when achieved in the general population.”
Professor Qi decided to add table salt because assessing overall salt intake is difficult due to the high levels of salt in many foods, including processed foods.
He said: “Adding salt to foods at the table is a common dietary behavior that is directly related to an individual’s long-term preference for salty-tasting foods and habitual salt intake.
“In the Western diet, adding table salt accounts for 6% to 20% of total salt intake and provides a unique way to assess the association between habitual sodium intake and risk of death.”
The experts analyzed data from 501,379 people who took part in the UK Biobank study for research.
When they joined the study between 2006 and 2010, people were asked, via a touchscreen questionnaire, how often they added salt to their food with the options of never/rarely, sometimes, almost always, or always .
Factors that may influence the results were taken into account, such as age, gender, race, deprivation, body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet and medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
During a typical nine-year follow-up, some 18,474 premature deaths (under 75 years) were recorded.
The researchers found that the risks of premature death related to the addition of salt were slightly reduced in people who ate more fruits and vegetables, although these results were not statistically significant.
Professor Qi said: “We were not surprised by this finding, as fruit and vegetables are important sources of potassium, which has protective effects and is associated with a lower risk of premature death.
“Because our study is the first to report a relationship between adding salt to food and mortality, more studies are needed to validate the findings before recommendations can be made.”