We consume too much salt: the diseases we may be exposed to and the foods we must avoid

Excessive salt consumption is a reality in Portugal. The Portuguese consume an average of 10.7 grams of salt a day, according to a study by PHYSA, which is double the amount recommended by the health authorities.

This excessive intake can be a trigger for various diseases. Hilda Freitas, internal physician (trained hospital assistant), explains that “when we reduce salt intake, we reduce the mortality rate from stroke (cerebrovascular accident)”.

“Excessive salt intake can result in hypertension, which leads to cardiovascular disease and stroke. It increases the risk of dementia, kidney disease (and kidney stones), osteoporosis, because it causes calcium to be destroyed through the urine,” the doctor said in a interview with SIC Notícias.

In 2020, according to data from Portadata, diseases of the circulatory system (which includes stroke, hypertension and heart failure) were the leading cause of death in Portugal (28%). However, excessive salt consumption can be a risk factor for other diseases.

“Excessive salt intake is also associated with the development of stomach cancer. There are certain areas in Portugal where a lot of sausages are eaten, and in these areas there is a higher incidence of stomach cancer, ”he explained.

According to Hilda Freitas, obesity, premature aging and fluid retention can be problems associated with salt consumption. “If people want to lose weight, they have to reduce the amount of salt they eat,” he said.

By 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal of a 30% reduction in salt / sodium intake for all member states, including Portugal. The goal is to get the population’s average salt intake below 5 grams of salt (ie <2 g of sodium) per day by 2025.

It is estimated that 11 million deaths worldwide are associated with poor diet, of which three million are attributed to high sodium intake.

There are alternatives to salt: how can we replace it in meals?

Spices and herbs such as oregano or basil can be an alternative to salt. “There are many herbs that people can combine, it’s a matter of experimenting,” said Hilda Freitas. Lemon can also work well in fish dishes.

“Changing habits is harder than taking a pill,” the doctor said, arguing that the population is socially trained to have a certain type of taste.

Other tips:

  • Taste the food while it is being prepared to avoid seasoning it too much;
  • Pay attention – or avoid, when possible – to the sauces and spices already cooked;
  • Try seasoning meat, fish and salads with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar;
  • Gradually reduce the salt. Sudden changes may not work;
  • Do not add salt to french fries. You can choose to make a homemade sauce.

Eating is a physiological need, but it is also a source of enjoyment. So start by gradually reducing the salt and experimenting with different spices and herbs.

Sodium (salt) is necessary for the proper functioning of the human body, but of course fresh foods already contain the levels of sodium we need – no need to add.

Which foods have the highest amount of salt, and what should we avoid?

What do the labels tell us?

When you go shopping, it is important to check the amount of salt on the product label. In what ways can the name of salt appear?

  • salinity;
  • sodium;
  • NaCl (sodium chloride);
  • Na (chemical symbol for sodium);
  • monosodium glutamate;
  • sodium bicarbonate;
  • sodium bisulfate;
  • disodium phosphate;
  • sodium hydroxide;
  • sodium propionate.

The Portuguese Society of Hypertension advises people to avoid buying products that have more than 5% of the recommended daily allowance (DRR) of sodium or with more than 1.5 grams of salt per serving. 100 grams.

Still, according to the WHO, it is necessary to go further and further reduce salt in foods. In the 2021 recommendations, the health organization assessed the details of thousands of products, categorized them, and issued new targets (you can consult the categories and the recommended amount of salt for each here). If you go in the pantry or the fridge, you will not have a hard time finding products with salt levels above (some far above) the WHO targets.

And the kids?

The World Health Organization recommends limiting children’s salt intake to 3 grams daily, two grams below the recommended amount for adults. Babies should not eat food with added salt at all.

Data from studies developed in recent years are not encouraging. The later children are exposed to salt, the less likely they are to have high blood pressure. According to data published by the Portuguese Society for Hypertension, about 12.8% of children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 18 have high blood pressure.

Another study completed in 2017 and conducted by physician Jorge Cotter at Hospital de Guimarães revealed that around 60% of the 300 children who participated in the research consume more salt than their parents, who in turn already have excessive consumption.

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