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Answerback: Is salt restriction a good idea?

Our experts answer your clinical questions

Our experts answer your clinical questions

What impact does salt restriction really have?

Evidence from dietary surveys shows that, on average, people consume more than double their reference nutrient intake (4g per day) of salt.

The Government has set a salt reduction target of 6g of salt a day for adults by 2010. If this target is achieved, it is estimated that it would lead to a 13 per cent decrease in stroke and a 10 per cent reduction in heart disease.

Cutting salt intake to a maximum of 6g per day would also lead to a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 2-3mmHg. Around 60-75 per cent of salt in the diet comes from processed foods. Cereal products ­ including breakfast cereals, bread, cakes and biscuits ­ provide about one-third of dietary salt. Salt added at the table or during cooking provides about 10 per cent.Encourage food label reading. As a guide:

·A 'lot' of salt is 1.25g (0.5g sodium) per 100g of a product ·A 'little' salt is 0.25g salt (0.1g sodium) per 100g of a product ·Salt is often labelled as sodium: multiply sodium by 2.5 to get total salt content.

Research on heat exhaustion often reaches the popular media. However, in a temperate climate such as the UK, there is little evidence that salt intakes of 4-6g per day would have any adverse effects for a healthy population, including the elderly. Intakes of less than 1g of salt per day have been reported in individuals and populations in good health.

Using salt restriction to treat or prevent hypertension during pregnancy is an early 20th-century practice. A recent review found no evidence to support this idea, although some lay literature backing it up may still exist. Evidence from clinical trials shows that greater reductions in blood pressure are observed when reductions in salt are accompanied by a diet low in total and saturated fat, with an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. Maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity will also help to prevent and treat high blood pressure.

Toni Steer, nutritionist MRC Human Nutrition Research. Competing interests: none declared

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