“Excessive sodium intake is the top risk factor for an unhealthy diet, and it is responsible for 1.8 million deaths each year,” said Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
Eating too much salt is one of the causes of heart disease, which kills an estimated 17.9 million people each year, according to the WHO. It can also cause stroke, which kills 5 million people globally every year – and other serious medical conditions.
Governments could save many of those lives by requiring the food industry to enforce mandatory limits on the amount of salt in processed foods, which accounts for the majority of sodium consumed by most Americans, rather than sprinkling salt on food. eat for in kitchen.
“It’s really something that doesn’t cost anybody a penny,” Branca said. “It’s a simple intervention, but it’s incredibly effective.”
Most people in the world consume about 10.8 grams of salt a day, which is more than double the level recommended by both the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggest consuming no more than a teaspoon of salt a day. Is. While salt is an essential nutrient, sodium — which makes up 40 percent of it — narrows and hardens blood vessels.
“If you retain more salt in the body, it gradually raises blood pressure,” said Graham McGregor, MD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the report, but suggests reducing salt intake. campaigned for. “That raised blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack or heart failure.”
Several other health organizations — including the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — also recommend that consumers dramatically reduce their sodium intake. This position is based on decades of scientific evidence (including analysis of hundreds of published studies outlining the health hazards of sodium) that has remained unchanged despite numerous studies in recent years that have challenged it.
Salt is present in all types of food. Here’s how to cut down on your daily sodium intake.
The WHO is hoping to reduce global salt intake by 30 percent from 2013 levels, a 12-year target agreed at that time by all 194 member states – but none are on track to meet , said on Thursday. Branca said he is considering extending the target to 2030.
In a review of salt-reduction policies implemented by world governments, the WHO found that only nine of its members had taken measures comprehensive enough to reduce excessive salt consumption – 5 percent of its members.
The UN health agency is calling on governments to raise public awareness of the dangers of excessively salty diets and to more clearly advertise salt levels on packaging. WHO officials believe the world also needs mandatory salt content levels to rid it of its deadly salt habit – given the high proportion that are used by food manufacturers rather than added by individual consumers. goes.
“It doesn’t make sense to tell people to stop adding salt to their food,” McGregor said. “It’s already there.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 70 percent of the salt in the American diet comes from packaged and prepared foods, not salt shakers at home.
In September, the FDA announced that it plans to change the rules for nutrition labels on food packages to indicate that they are “healthy.” Manufacturers must adhere to specific limits on sodium, among other nutrients.
In response, the Consumer Brands Association, which represents 1,700 major brands including General Mills and Pepsi, said the proposed rule was overly restrictive and instead sought to “revise nutrient limits for added sugars and sodium to marginally higher levels.” suggested.
Americans can’t cut back on the salt. One possible reason: Packaged and prepared foods are full of it.
The World Health Organisation’s Branca argues that one reason why food manufacturers continue to add so much salt, despite the known health risks, is that years of putting too much salt in our foods have caused people’s taste buds to become overly sensitive. Level insensitive. “You expect a certain amount of salt, and you think that if you don’t have that much salt, the food is tasteless,” Branca said.
“Manufacturers don’t want to take the initiative to reduce sodium if there is a competitor that has a higher salt content,” he said, demanding that governments force food manufacturers to reduce those levels through mandatory targets. Are.
Scientists say the benefits of reducing salt intake start relatively quickly. According to the CDC, blood pressure begins to drop within weeks for most people, and salt sensitivity returns soon after.
“Your taste buds will adjust to the reduction in salt, and you’ll be able to better taste other flavors,” Branca said. He suggests that your food may start to taste better.
Marlene Cimons and Laura Reiley contributed to this report.
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