We consume too much salt: the diseases we can face and the foods to avoid

Excessive salt consumption is a reality in Portugal. The Portuguese consume an average of 10.7 grams of salt per day, according to a study by the PHYSAwhich is twice the dose recommended by health authorities.

This excessive consumption can be a trigger for various diseases. Hilda Freitas, an internal medicine doctor (qualified hospital assistant), explains that “when we reduce salt intake, we reduce stroke (stroke) mortality”.

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

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

“Excessive salt intake is also linked to the development of stomach cancer. There are certain regions of Portugal where people eat a lot of sausages and in these regions the prevalence of stomach cancer is higher,” he explained.

According to Hilda Freitas, obesity, premature aging and water 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.

In 2021, the World Health Organization (SGD) set a 30% reduction in salt/sodium intake for all member countries, including Portugal. The goal is to bring the average salt consumption of the population to less than 5 grams of salt (i.e. < 2 g of sodium) per day by 2025.

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

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

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

“Changing your habits is more difficult than taking a pill”, explained the doctor, arguing that socially the population is educated to have a certain type of taste.

Our actions :

  • Taste food as it cooks to avoid over-seasoning;
  • Pay attention to – or avoid as much as possible – ready-made sauces and seasonings;
  • 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 fries. You can choose to make a homemade sauce.

Eating is a physiological need, but it is also a source of pleasure. 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 fresh foods naturally already contain the levels of sodium we need – no need to add more.

What foods contain the most salt and what should we avoid?

What do the labels tell us?

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

  • salt content;
  • 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 containing more than 5% of the recommended daily allowance (DRR) of sodium or containing more than 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams.

However, according to the WHO, we must go further and further reduce the salt in food products. In the 2021 recommendations, the health body evaluated the specifics of thousands of products, categorized them and published new objectives (see here categories and the amount of salt recommended for each). If you go to the pantry or the fridge, you’ll have no trouble finding products with salt levels above (some well above) WHO guidelines.

And the children?

The World Health Organization recommends limiting children’s salt intake to 3 grams per day, which is two grams less than the recommended amount for adults. Babies should not eat foods 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. However, according to the Of published by the Portuguese Society of Arterial Hypertension, approximately 12.8% of children and young people between the ages of 5 and 18 suffer from high blood pressure.

Another study completed in 2017 and carried out by Doctor Jorge Cotter of the Guimarães Hospital found that approximately 60% of the 300 children who participated in the research consume more salt than their parents, who, in turn, have already excessive consumption.

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