Table salt, excess puts the body in danger: how to reduce it

It's underway World Week for the Reduction of Salt Consumption, launched by WASSH – World Action on Salt, Sugar and Health. And with it the calls for reducing the introduction of sodium, in the form of sodium chloride, are multiplying. Why we take in too much.

The latest, umpteenth reminder in this sense comes directly from the Epicentro website of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità. In the Italian adult population, the average daily salt consumption in men is 10.9 grams in 24 hours. In women it is only slightly lower: it is around six 8.6 grams in 24 hours. The data emerge from the preliminary results of the Minisal-Gircsi project, collected in 15 Italian regions on 1519 men and 1450 women aged between 35 and 79. Beyond the absolute numbers, what matters is that we exaggerate.

Because these values ​​are well above the sodium intake recommended by the World Health Organization which urges you not to consume more than 5 grams of salt (about 85 millimoles of sodium) daily.
By exaggerating, as we are doing, we increase the risks for two of the “heaviest” chronic conditions, both for the individual and for the healthcare system, namely cardiovascular diseases and tumors.

What does salt abuse entail?

As pointed out by the experts of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU), which collaborates with WASSH, coordinating the campaign for Italy, it is necessary focus on the Mediterranean diet to make it easier to reduce salt consumption. Excess salt in the diet, which often begins as early as weaning, is in fact particularly harmful as it induces progressive increase in blood pressure from the first years of life and favors the development of hypertension in adulthood. A recent study has also highlighted a correlation between salt abuse and early vascular lesions predisposing toheart attack and to thebrain stroke.

The excessive quantity of salt present in the usual diet of Italian adults, children and adolescents has been widely documented by the studies forming the MINISAL programme. These studies have also highlighted the frequent association between salt abuse, obesity and increased blood pressure valuesdue to the fact that a diet rich in salt depends largely on the consumption of processed products rich in added salt and high-calorie which, among other things, stimulating the sense of thirst, lead, especially adolescents, to the consumption of sugary drinks, in turn high-calorie.

Epidemiological studies conducted in approximately 200 countries on all continents have highlighted the abuse of salt as the dietary error most responsible for premature deaths and disabilities related to the development of chronic non-communicable diseases. Globally, it would be possible to prevent over two and a half million premature deaths through reducing salt consumption less than 5 grams per daybetween that already present in foods and that added, according to WHO indications.

Where does excess salt come from?

The main source of sodium intake in the Italian diet is given by sodium chloride (salt), added in processed artisanal, industrial or collective catering products (at least 50% of the total intake) and then by that added in the kitchen and/or at the table (about 35%). THE cereals and derivatives, primarily bread, pizza and other baked products, they represent one of the most significant sources of added sodium in processed products. High shares also derive from groups meat/eggs/fish (31%) e milk and derivatives (21%), again due to the salt added respectively in preserved meats and seafood products and even more so in cheeses. The salt content of fruit, vegetables and fresh vegetables in general is, however, very low.

“A diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables and legumeson which the Mediterranean diet model is based, implies a lower overall salt consumption, as long as you avoid frequent consumption of mature cheeses and sausages, as well as meat, fish and other canned foods containing added salt – explains Pasquale Strazzullo, coordinator of the Less Salt More Health Working Group of the SINU. It is also very important to consume bread low in saltpaying attention to what is stated on the label, do not add salt at the table and limit its use in cooking as much as possible, preferring in any case the iodized salt”.

Individual commitment must be accompanied by a global strategy that requires, at national and international levels, the collaboration of the food industry and awareness of the population through advertising campaigns. It is necessary for manufacturers of processed foods to reduce the sodium content of their products, following the repeated indications of the World Health Organization and to clearly indicate on nutritional labels whether the product has a lower or higher sodium content. sodium.

Why it is important to focus on bread

Several countries are implementing important programs to reduce salt consumption. In Italy, the Ministry of Health has signed an agreement with the main artisan and industrial baking associations for one progressive reduction of the salt content in bread (15% less in 4 years), since this food is present on the Italian table every day. In fact, if it is true that science says that we obviously need to pay attention to the salt that is added to foods, it should not be forgotten that we also need to pay attention to the salt that is already found in packaged foods. In this sense, bread is certainly one of the foods most under observation, as are baked products.

A study by the University of Illinois, published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, focused on these foods. The research proposes a review of the academic literature on value of sodium reduction in bread. According to experts, the simplest method is to simply reduce the amount of salt in the product. But it's not the only step. Sometimes we focus on physical modification, in an attempt to deceive the taste buds with an uneven distribution of salt in the product, almost like a deception for the taste buds. The goal in this case is to alternate dense and slightly salty layers, to arrive at a effect on taste with less salt. A third method involves replacement of sodium with other substances, such as magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, or potassium chloride. The fourth method finally involves the modification of flavor with taste enhancers such as herbs and spices or other substances.

Tips for who makes bread at home? Focus on specific recipes with low salt content, since it is still possible to make excellent loaves even with smaller quantities of sodium chloride. For example, cereal bread, or bread flavored with spices and herbs.

How to get used to reducing salt

Under normal conditions our body eliminates from 0.1 to 0.6 grams of sodium daily and this quantity must be replenished through the diet. But it is on the income front that we need to improve. Think about that halve from 10 to 5 grams per day our usual salt consumption reduces the risk of having a stroke by 23%. and reduces the risk of having heart disease by 17%.

Reducing the amount of salt you consume daily is not difficult, especially if the reduction occurs gradually. In fact our palate adapts easily, and it is therefore possible re-educate him to less salty foods. Within a few months, or even weeks, these same foods will appear tasty at the right level, while those seasoned in the previous way will seem too salty.

How to behave Therefore? For example, in addition to checking labels, it is advisable to reduce the consumption of ready-made dishes and sauces, also limiting sodium-rich foods such as stock cubes, soy sauce, mustard and more. But it is also essential to limit the salt added to dishes, starting with the pasta being cooked. Let's get used to it use fresh herbs, spices or using lemon and vinegar. Among cheeses, it is better to prefer fresh ones which generally have less salt, like milk and yogurt. For snacks, remember to prefer fruit and vegetables, even in the form of juices and centrifuges.
Finally, in consideration of the close relationship between sodium and potassium, we remember that it is necessary to evaluate the dietary intake not only of sodium, but also of potassium. The largest dietary source of potassium is found in vegetables, fruit and milk products and the use of packaged food products, including bread, favors dietary sodium excess and potassium deficiency. It has also been shown that an increase in potassium content in the diet has a favorable effect on various risk factors and cardiovascular diseases and for this reason international guidelines recommend a increased regular consumption of vegetables and fresh fruit precisely for the purpose of increasing the potassium content in the diet, also in consideration of the poor dietary intake of potassium in the general population.