Salting less could prevent 5,300 deaths a year in Canada

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

This figure represents around 9% of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in Canada each year. Reducing our salt intake to the level recommended by public health authorities could prevent up to 5,300 deaths per year in Canada. This is the conclusion reached by a research team at the end of a study evaluating the impact of different scenarios for reducing sodium consumption on the health of the Canadian population. The team’s work, led by Mary L’Abbe of the University of Toronto, was published in the journal Plos One.

To arrive at this estimate, the research team, which includes Professor Marie-Ève Labonté , from the School of Nutrition, Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods, and Centre NUTRISS - Nutrition, Health and Society at Université Laval, used the results of the nutritional component of the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey, conducted by Statistics Canada. This survey contains information on the type and quantity of food consumed on a given day by some 20,000 people living in Canada.

The researchers then estimated the amount of sodium (note: 1 mg of sodium corresponds to 2.5 mg of salt) consumed by these individuals by cross-referencing the results of the Statistics Canada survey with a database, compiled at the University of Toronto, which documents the nutritional composition of over 17,000 pre-packaged foods sold in Canada.

"The exercise revealed an average sodium intake of 2758 mg/day. This is significantly higher than the intake recommended by Health Canada (2300 mg/d) and the World Health Organization (2000 mg/d). It’s also higher than the Adequate Intake recommended by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), which is 1500 mg/d," summarizes Marie-Ève Labonté.

Salt consumption is associated with hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Using a simulation tool to estimate how behavioral changes affect mortality, the research team calculated the number of deaths that would be avoided if sodium reduction recommendations were followed. The results? Compliance with the thresholds proposed by Health Canada, the WHO and NASEM would prevent 2176, 3252 and 5296 deaths in Canada each year, respectively, representing approximately 4%, 6% and 9% of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease in the country.

"An experiment carried out in Tunisia showed that a 35% reduction in the salt content of bread was not perceptible to consumers when spread over a three-year period. "

Marie-Ève Labonté, on consumers’ ability to adapt to less salty foods

A few years ago, in line with the WHO’s proposal recommending a 30% reduction in sodium consumption, Canada committed to reducing the country’s average sodium intake to 2300 mg/d by 2025. "Between 2004 and 2015, the reduction was 700 mg, although no binding measures were imposed on companies. The remaining 400 mg may be harder to achieve without the adoption of mandatory targets," says Professor Labonté.

Companies’ fear is that consumers will turn away from their products if they reduce the salt content. To avoid this, you have to go very gradually," stresses the researcher. An experiment carried out in Tunisia showed that a 35% reduction in the salt content of bread was not perceptible to consumers when spread over a three-year period. What’s more, research shows that negative consumer reactions can be avoided by replacing table salt with substitute ingredients, such as samphire salt, which enhance the taste of food while reducing sodium intake."