We eat too much salt: what diseases we have to deal with and what foods we need to avoid

We eat too much salt: what diseases we have to deal with and what foods we need to avoid

Excessive salt consumption is a reality in Portugal. According to a PHYSA study, the Portuguese consume an average of 10.7 grams of salt per day, more than double the amount recommended by health officials.

This overdose can lead to various diseases. Hilda Fritas, an internal medicine physician (graduate hospital assistant), explains that “when we reduce salt intake, we reduce stroke (cerebrovascular accident) mortality.”

“Excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and paralysis. This increases the risk of dementia, kidney disease (and kidney stone), and osteoporosis because it destroys calcium in the urine,” the doctor told SIC Notícias.

In 2020, according to PortData data, diseases of the circulatory system (including stroke, hypertension and heart failure) were the leading causes of death in Portugal (28%). But high salt intake can be dangerous for other diseases.

“High salt intake is also linked to the development of stomach cancer. There are some areas in Portugal where a lot of sausages are eaten and these areas have high rates of stomach cancer, ”he explained.

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

By 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set a 30% reduction in salt / sodium intake for all member countries, including Portugal. The goal is to reduce the average salt intake of the population to less than 5 grams of salt (i.e. <2 grams of sodium) by 2025.

An estimated 11 million deaths worldwide are related to poor diet, of which more than 3 million are due to sodium intake.

There are alternatives to salt: how can we turn it into a meal?

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

“It’s harder to change habits than to take a pill,” the doctor said.

Other tips:

  • Taste it when cooking food to avoid overcooking;
  • Pay attention – or avoid when possible – already prepared sauces and spices;
  • Try meat, fish, and salad seasonings with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar;
  • Slowly reduce the salt. Sudden changes may not work;
  • Do not add salt for frying. You can choose to make homemade sauce.

Eating is a physical need, but it is also a source of happiness. So start by gradually reducing the salt and experiment with different spices and herbs.

Sodium (salt) is essential for the proper functioning of the human body, but fresh foods naturally contain pre-existing levels of sodium – no need to add.

Which foods are high in salt and what should we avoid?

What do labels tell us?

When you go shopping, it is important to check the amount of salt on the product label. How does the name salt appear?

  • Salt content;
  • Sodium
  • NaCl (sodium chloride);
  • No (chemical mark for sodium);
  • Monosodium glutamate;
  • Sodium bicarbonate;
  • Sodium bisulfate;
  • Disodium phosphate;
  • Sodium hydroxide;
  • Sodium propionate.

The Portuguese Society of Hypertension has advised the population to refrain from purchasing products containing more than 5% of the recommended daily allowance (DRR) of sodium or more than 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams.

However, according to the WHO, there is a need to go further and reduce salt in food products. In the 2021 recommendations, the health organization evaluated the characteristics of thousands of products, classified them and issued new objectives (you can consult the range and recommended salt ratio for each one here). If you go into a pantry or fridge, you won’t have a problem finding products with salt levels higher than (or above) WHO targets.

And the boys?

The World Health Organization recommends limiting salt intake to 3 grams per day for children, two grams less than the recommended amount for adults. Children should not eat salt at all.

The data from studies developed in recent years are not encouraging. The later children are exposed to salt, the less likely they are to develop high blood pressure. However, according to figures released by the Portuguese Society of 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 Dr. George Cotter at the Hospital de Guimares, found that about 60% of the 300 children who participated in the research consumed more salt than their parents, who, in turn, already consumed more.

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