First, it is important to understand the dangers associated with too much salt and to what extent we are exposed to the risks.
A recent study conducted by the George Institute of Global Health, India concludes that “salt intake in India is double [the] WHO prescribed limit of 5gm per day.” Indians consume 9.08 gm of salt every day; this may be the reason behind rising rates of several chronic diseases.
“Our findings show that salt intake continues to be high and thus there is an urgent need for national salt reduction strategies that are well suited to settings and effective salt reduction policies in achieving the United Nations global targets of a thirty percent reduction in mean population salt intake by 2025,” said Sudhir Raj Thout, Research Fellow at the George Institute.
““Over the past thirty years the average Indian diet has been transformed. They are eating less pulses, fruits and vegetables and lots more processed and fast foods. As a result their diets are now full of salt, sugars and harmful fats which are driving up rates of high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.””
The high sodium content in the salt is what can lead to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. The Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) has previously warned of high levels of salt consumption driving up rates of high blood pressure – a condition which caused 17.5 percent of all deaths in India in 2016. The WHO says that reducing salt consumption could avert an estimated 2.5 million deaths worldwide.
- 77 percent from packaged and restaurant foods
- Twelve percent from naturally occurring sources
- Eleven percent from adding salt during cooking or at the table
Lead author Claire Johnson said: “Over the past thirty years the average Indian diet has been transformed. They are eating less pulses, fruits and vegetables and lots more processed and fast foods. As a result their diets are now full of salt, sugars and harmful fats which are driving up rates of high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.”
So, naturally, it follows that by reducing consumption of processed food and using lesser quantity of salt in cooking the intake levels can easily be reduced. This will carry multiple benefits for health.
“Even a 1 g per capita reduction in salt can reduce over seven percent of deaths due to stroke and heart attacks.”
Population salt reduction strategies are urgently needed in low- and medium-income countries, like India, but effecting such policies remain a challenge. However, such initiatives have been effectively implemented in many high-income countries and include a range of activities such as food reformulation, consumer education, front of pack labeling, and interventions in public institutions. There is an urgent need to implement these strategies in India.
Studies highlight that even a 1 g per capita reduction in salt can reduce over seven percent of deaths due to stroke and heart attacks. If you drink ample fluids, eat electrolyte-rich foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables), and aim to consume natural salt/sea salt instead of table salt as much as possible, you shouldn’t have to keep a close eye on your sodium intake.
Policy initiatives can influence consumption of salt. They, however, need to take a comprehensive view in order to synergize economic growth with population health. A whole-of-society approach with policy convergence between health, nutrition, agriculture, food industries, and related sectors is required. Businesses have to become a partner in the exercise.
Some of the strategies could be mandatory product reformulation through dialogues with food producers and processors, restrictions and approvals on marketing materials contents through a nationalized regulatory agency, interventions on food supply chains and media interventions for behavioral changes, prohibiting the sale of sugary drinks and salt-rich eatables in or near school premises, and many others. Such initiatives could go some way towards alleviating India’s chronic disease crisis and improving the health of the country both at present and for future generations.