Thursday, October 28

Salt substitutes, are they really effective for health?


The sodium is an element that the body needs: it participates in the Control of blood pressure and blood volume and also the body requires it for muscles and nerves to function properly.

This element occurs naturally in some foods – milk, beets, celery, even in drinking water – but the main source from which we obtain it is the salt with which we prepare or season the food.

The problem is that we consume a lot of salt. Too much. Consequently, the delicate physiological balance that must be maintained between sodium and potassium is disturbed. And, as a result, the risk of suffering – among other problems – high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke increases.

For this reason, reducing the consumption of salt in the world is one of the great objectives of the World Health Organization (who). According to their experts, each year they could avoid 2.5 million deaths across the globe if salt intake were reduced to recommended levels.

The recommended salt and the one we consume

What are those recommended levels of salt? No more than five grams per day (which is equal to two grams of sodium). However, “most people consume too much salt, nine to twelve grams per day on average, that is, twice the maximum recommended intake“, details the WHO in a document.

In Spain, sodium intake exceeds these recommended limits even when only the “hidden salt“, that is to say, that included in drinks and foods processed or consumed outside the home. Only with that, the average consumption already reaches 2,025 grams of sodium per day (5.06 grams of salt).

To that amount we must add the salt that is added to food during cooking or at the table, which ends up representing only 25-30% of the total salt consumed. These data arise from a report prepared by the Spanish Nutrition Foundation, published at the beginning of last year.

In 2013, WHO member states agreed decrease salt intake by 30% in twelve years, that is, by 2025. A study published in March, which analyzes the progress of this policy in the middle of the period (in 2019), it indicates that “there has been an increase in initiatives” to achieve this reduction in salt consumption.

However, the same work – carried out by scientists from Australia, the United States, Canada, Egypt, Denmark and the Philippines – emphasizes that “efforts should accelerate and replicate urgently in other countries “, and that” more rigorous monitoring and evaluation of strategies is needed to achieve the objective “.

In search of an effective substitute

For all these reasons, the search for substitutes for salt is of vital importance. There is the call potassium salt and other similar products, which in general do not have much acceptance, because its flavor is not close enough to that of table salt and many people find it rather unpleasant.

Scientists have tried different combinations in search of a product whose taste is as close as possible to that of common salt and which, in turn, has benefits. Recent trials have given good results with a lower sodium salt and a potassium additive.

A team of scientists from Peru conducted an experiment with 2,376 inhabitants of six towns in that country. The common characteristic of this population was that they prepared their food in an artisanal and natural way, without using processed products. They were asked to substitute common salt for one with 75% sodium and 25% potassium.

The conclusions of the job -published last year, and in which scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom also participated- indicate that, in people who consumed the substitute product, the risk of developing hypertension was reduced by 51% compared to those who had eaten common salt.

For this reason, the authors of the work pointed out that these data support the idea of ​​”implementing a pragmatic strategy of salt substitution in the entire population to reduce blood pressure and the incidence of hypertension.”

Less sodium, more benefits

In other study Recently, the same type of product (three-quarters sodium chloride and one quarter potassium) was tested with nearly 21,000 people from 600 villages in China. All of those people were over 60 years old and suffered from hypertension, or they had suffered a stroke.

After almost five years of observation, the researchers were able to determine that there was an association between the consumption of this salt substitute and a decrease in stroke levels, major cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality.

On the other hand, increased potassium intake did not lead to hyperkalemia, and therefore did not lead to significant adverse effects in either of the two studies. Therefore, the main author of the work (which was published at the end of last month) agreed that this salt substitute “could be adopted very quickly at very low cost“and very positive results.

Meanwhile, waiting for this or some other new product to find acceptance and spread, what remains is to become aware of the excess salt we incur and try to modify habits to reduce consumption.

One of the main measures consists of avoid as much as possible the intake of processed products, especially industrial pastries, sliced ​​bread, industrial sauces, pre-made pizzas and other products of that kind, and also not go overboard with sausages, cheese and ham.

For the rest, there are also “natural substitutes“from salt. minced garlic (also chopped or roasted), onion, herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, pepper, rosemary, thyme, coriander, parsley, etc.

Also lemon juice, vinegars and oils, in many cases, give food fragrances and flavors that allow to reduce to a minimum – or directly eliminate – the need to add salt when cooking.

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