People who sprinkle more salt on their food are at an increased risk of dying prematurely, according to new research.
A study of more than 500,000 people concluded that those who always add the seasoning have a 28% higher risk of premature death than people who rarely or never do so.
Typically, about three in 100 people between the ages of 40 and 69 die prematurely in the general population.
But the research, published in the European Heart Journal, found that an extra 1 in 100 people could succumb to premature death due to added salt.
Men aged 50 risk losing around 2.28 years of their life by consuming more salt, according to the study.
Women of the same age could see their life expectancy drop by around a year and a half.
Nearly 18,500 premature deaths (under age 75) were recorded during a nine-year follow-up after data collection between 2006 and 2010.
The new study was led by Professor Lu Qi, from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans in the United States.
Professor Qi, who has worked alongside colleagues at Harvard Medical Schools, said: “In the Western diet, the addition of salt at the table accounts for 6-20% of total salt intake and is a unique way to assess the association between usual sodium intake and risk of death.”
Even a “modest reduction” in sodium intake can lead to “substantial health benefits”, Professor Qi said.
The research considered factors that may affect results, including age, gender, race, deprivation, body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and diet, as well as health issues such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The risk of early death from added salt is slightly reduced in people who eat more fruits and vegetables – but the difference is not ‘significant’.
“Because our study is the first to report a relationship between the addition of salt to foods and mortality, further studies are needed to validate the results before making recommendations,” Dr. Qi said.
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British Heart Foundation senior cardiac nurse Chloe MacArthur has warned that the “vast majority of salt” is already in products before they are purchased – meaning people are consuming more than they realize – and called on ministers to find ways to encourage the food industry to reduce salt.
“We need salt in our diets, but eating too much of it can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke,” she said.
The National Food Strategy, a major review by businessman and restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, included recommendations for a tax on salt and sugar in a bid to reduce obesity.
But he was abandoned by Boris Johnson, who has insisted now is not the right time to start ‘hitting new taxes’ on unhealthy food and people claimed should just “eat less”.