Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California recently released the results of a study they conducted on the best ways to get Americans to consume less salt. The study was in response to research indicating that even a 10 percent cut in salt intake overall would prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes over the course of several decades, saving the U.S. government $32 billion in healthcare costs.
Researchers decided that the best approach to reducing overall salt intake is to establish voluntary programs with the U.S. food industry to cut salt levels in food. The U.K. operates under a similar program that is said to work well.
According to Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler from the VA, even a small decrease in overall salt intake would be effective at reducing the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease. According to the study, more than 500,000 fatal stroke and more than 480,000 heart attacks would be prevented because of the salt-cutting campaign.
The team also considered the idea of imposing a national tax on salt, but decided that it would likely not be as effective as simply working with the food industry to reduce salt content in food. According to the analysis, the tax would likely only cut salt intake by 6 percent while voluntary collaboration with the food industry would be closer to 10 percent.
According to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 75 percent of Americans consume more than the daily recommended maximums of salt. Because many Americans eat large amounts of fast and processed foods, which contain excessive amounts of salt, their diets are overwhelmed by salt.
The U.K. salt reduction program has successfully reduced salt content in processed foods by up to 30 percent since 2003. This, of course, is due to cooperation by food manufacturers which have agreed to the program’s objectives. Similar programs exist in Japan, Finland, Ireland, Australia and Canada as well.
However, neither the study nor the researchers made any differentiation between natural and synthetic salt. The salt used in most processed foods is a chemical salt created in a laboratory that is far different from natural sea and mineral salts which can actually be beneficial to health. It is important to recognize the difference between common table salt, which is not natural, and natural earth salts when making any recommendations pertain to salt.