It is common to see a salt shaker at the Brazilian table – and many who add more of the seasoning to the food whenever possible. But according to a study done by Biobank UK, a database linked to the UK public health system, people who add salt to food on the table have a 28% greater chance of dying prematurely than those who never or rarely increase the amount.
The study, published this month in the European Heart Journal, followed more than 500,000 people for nine years. Forms were distributed to monitor the addition of salt in ready-to-eat foods. Over that time, 18,474 premature deaths from all causes were documented.
The study also showed that mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer is also higher for those who consume more salt.
The highest frequency of death occurred among male, non-white patients with a higher BMI (body mass index). These also had a higher prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The higher intake of red and processed meat also negatively impacted the health of this group.
In patients aged 50 years and older, the frequent addition of salt to meals can reduce life expectancy by 2.28 years for men and 1.5 years for women.
Consumption in Brazil
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that adults consume 5 grams of salt per day. The study brings a warning to the Brazilian population, whose sodium consumption, according to experts, is high.
Cardiologist Luiz Bortolotto, director of the Hypertension Clinical Unit of InCor (Heart Institute), says that the daily intake of sodium in the country is more than double the recommended.
“There are several sources. It’s salt in cooking, products that contain sodium and salt added to the table. We often see in restaurants that people put salt sometimes even before tasting the food”, highlights the doctor.
Nutritionist Lara Natacci, coordinator of the communication commission of the Brazilian Society of Food and Nutrition and a PhD from USP (University of São Paulo), says that the greatest consumption by Brazilians is when cooking or at the table.
“Sodium can cause fluid retention, which increases blood volume and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood, increasing blood pressure in people who are sensitive to sodium,” he says. Some may have kidney complications, but the most common are pressure and swelling problems.
Among those who should reinforce care with excess salt are hypertensive and elderly patients. Those who have lost taste and smell due to Covid-19 should also be careful, as they can add more seasoning than necessary because they don’t taste the food.
Change of habit
“[O estudo] provides new evidence to support recommendations that modify eating behaviors to improve health,” said lead author Lu Qi, a professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
“Even a modest reduction in sodium intake, adding less or no salt to food at the table, is likely to result in substantial health benefits, especially when achieved in the general population,” he said.
This habit represents a 6 to 20% decrease in total salt intake in Western diets, the study points out. On the other hand, the study indicates that higher consumption of potassium through fruits and vegetables reduces the effects of sodium on the body.
“We were not surprised by this finding, as fruits and vegetables are the main sources of potassium, which has protective effects and is associated with a lower risk of premature death,” said Qi.
The research also highlights that potassium acted positively even in individuals who maintained a high frequency of adding salt to food.
dodging the excess
Some of the villains are foods that contain “hidden salt”, according to the InCor cardiologist, such as frozen foods, condiments and sausages.
Another tip is to pay attention to the labels to check if the amount of sodium is within the recommended range. “Each one of these ultra-processed foods has an amount of sodium that varies”, highlights Bortolotto.
Salete Nacif, cardiologist at HCor (Hospital do Coração), advises avoiding cooking food with salt, as it reduces absorption by the food. The recommendation is also to season the food well with other natural seasonings and condiments.
HCor nutritionist, Luís Gustavo Mota, highlights that herbal salt can be a great ally. Just add the coarse salt with natural dry or in natura seasonings such as thyme, oregano, parsley in the blender and beat.
“This increases the flavor of the food, stimulates the palate more and uses less salt for cooking.” He also warns that ready-made seasonings and flavor enhancers are high in sodium and should be avoided.
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