A pinch of salt can perk up your morning omelet—but that innocent shaker is responsible for 2.3 million deaths around the world and 85,000 deaths per year in the United States, says a study released Thursday from Harvard's School of Public Health.
One in ten people die from heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease as a result of eating too much sodium, according to lead study author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard University.
Despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams a day and the American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg per day, the global national average for the U.S. is 4,000 mg of sodium," Mozaffarian told Shine. For perspective: One teaspoon of salt has 2,325 mg of sodium.
Researchers analyzed 247 national surveys of sodium intake in 66 countries between 1990 and 2010, then looked at studies that measured how high amounts of sodium affect blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. They also obtained the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease from the Global Burden of Disease study.
"Out of all the countries, the United States ranked 19th out of 30 of the largest countries for the most salt consumption relating to cardiovascular death," says Mozaffarian. "When people think of limiting salt, foods like potatoes chips and French fries come to mind but those mainly contain salt on the surface," he says. "Salt isn't just used for taste; it's also used as a preservative in packaged foods like bread and canned foods such as soup which Americans eat a lot of."
Salt is a hard habit to shake, for a few reasons: For starters, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and savory, salt is one of the five basic tastes. Just like some people have a sweet tooth, others crave salt often. Second, a salty tooth may be biologically-determined. Some studies suggest that babies whose mothers suffer from morning sickness have above-average salt appetites because vomiting decreases sodium levels in her body and in the fetus. And other research suggests that stress or anxiety can make us reach for the salt and eventually, just like anything else, adding salt to our meals becomes habitual.
Unsurprisingly, the Salt Institute's vice president of science and research Morton Satin says: "This misleading study did not measure any actual cardiovascular deaths related to salt intake, since, by the authors' own admission, no country anywhere in the world consumes the low levels of salt they recommend...The Salt Institute does not consider this misleading modeling exercise helpful in furthering our knowledge of the role of salt on our health. On the contrary, it is disingenuous and disrespectful of consumers."
If you do want to cut down on your sodium intake, try these tips: Avoid balsamic vinegar: On salad choose red-wine vinegar instead of its more popular counterpart balsamic, Carly Feigan, a New York City based Clinical Nutritionist told Shine. "Red wine vinegar already contains salt so it will quell your cravings," she says. "Balsamic has a high sugar content and triggers sugar cravings which may have you reaching for more high-sodium packaged foods." Spice up your meals: The capsaicin in hot sauce will give your eggs or pizza a fiery kick causing skin tingles, flushed skin, and the release of feel-good hormones (called endorphins) and could possibly extinguish the need for extra salt. Feigan's pick: Frank's hot sauces which have the lowest sodium per teaspoon.
Eat a clean diet: Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and beans contain natural sodium which should satisfy your bodies' natural cravings so you won't reach for the shaker as often.