Salt is in almost everything we eat, from bread and cereals to cheese and cured meats. Most processed and prepared foods already contain high levels of salt, and often we add it to the foods that we make ourselves.
Salt may seem innocuous, but consuming too much salt can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure, and greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Sodium, which is present in salt, is necessary to maintain the blood’s plasma volume, acid-base balance, the transmission of nerve impulses, and normal cell function. Iodized salt provides the iodine needed to prevent brain damage in children and a range of other health problems.
But most people consume far more salt than is needed to provide these health benefits. Worldwide, people consume an average of around ten grams of salt per day – double the World Health Organization’s (WHO)recommended daily maximum of less than five grams (or just under one teaspoon). An even lower salt intake is recommended for children aged 2-15.
High salt intake has contributed to a global increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are often salt-related.
If global salt consumption were reduced to the recommended level, an estimated 2.5 million deaths could be prevented every year. And such efforts would be extremely cost-effective – especially given the health and economic costs associated with higher NCD rates.
With this in mind, WHO has established a 30 percent relative reduction in the world’s salt intake by 2025 as a target in its global action plan to support governments’ efforts to eliminate avoidable NCDs.
Families and individuals have the largest role to play in any initiative to reduce salt intake, for they choose what they purchase, prepare, and consume. It is up to them to adopt a few simple strategies to reduce salt intake and improve children’s chances at long, healthy lives.
Know your salt consumption: Read food labels when purchasing processed food and check the salt levels. By purchasing products with less salt, you can compel producers and retailers to expand their offerings of such foods.
Salt to food: Do not add more salt to food. Remove the saltshaker from the table. If you want to use salt when cooking, pour out a fifth of a teaspoon and limit yourself to pinches from this amount over the course of a day. Substitute bouillon cubes with herbs and natural seasonings.
Avoid high-salt foods: Limit the consumption of products such as processed meats, cheeses, potato chips, ready-made meals, and condiments like soy sauce, fish sauce, and ketchup.
Guide children’s tastes: Starting young children on a diet of mostly natural, unprocessed foods without added salt will teach them to enjoy healthy food throughout their lives.