Are you aware of this danger lurking in salt?

Go easy on the salt — it's not healthy for your heart.
Go easy on the salt — it's not healthy for your heart.

"More salt on my chips, please." It's common phrase we hear in fast-foods restaurants, and even though most of us are aware of the dangers of too much salt, we still use too much. 

Now researchers are saying too much salt in your diet can increase your risk for heart failure. And that's a finding that you should not take with a pinch of salt. 

That's the conclusion of Finnish researchers who found that people who consume more than 13 700 milligrams of salt a day – about 2.5 teaspoons – had double the risk for heart failure of low-salt consumers.

The heart does not like salt

"High salt [sodium chloride] intake is one of the major causes of high blood pressure and an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke," said researcher Pekka Jousilahti.

"The heart does not like salt," said Jousilahti, a research professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki.

"High salt intake markedly increases the risk of heart failure," he added in a news release from the European Society of Cardiology.

In addition to coronary heart disease and stroke, heart failure is a major cardiovascular disease globally, but the role of high salt intake in its development is unknown, Jousilahti said.

The link between salt and heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle can no longer pump blood efficiently. People with the condition often complain of fatigue, shortness of breath and limited ability to complete everyday tasks. And about half of those who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

To investigate the link between salt intake and heart failure, the researchers conducted a 12-year follow-up study of more than 4 600 people who participated in two large Finnish studies between 1979 and 2002. Participants ranged in age from 25 to 64 when the initial study began.

For the follow-up, the researchers performed 24-hour sodium extraction – the "gold standard" for measuring individual salt intake. They also collected information on participants' lifestyle habits, weight, height and blood pressure. In addition, the researchers took blood and urine samples and tracked participants' health, using death, hospital discharge and drug reimbursement records.

Over the 12 years, 121 men and women developed heart failure. The researchers found that consuming more than 6 800 milligrams of salt – about 1.2 teaspoons – each day is linked to heart failure, regardless of blood pressure.

However, the study only found an association, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship, between salt consumption and heart failure.

Be careful of hidden salt

Humans need salt to survive as our bodies require sodium to transmit nerve impulses and control fluid balance in the body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily salt limit of 5 grams per day (about one teaspoon).

Even if you think you’re not consuming that much salt, you should be wary of hidden salts. Processed foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, ready-made meals, sauces, spreads, cheeses and processed meats all contain hidden salts and can increase salt intake considerably.

How to cut your salt intake

Health24 previously mentioned ways to decrease your salt intake:

  • Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals: these are good sources of potassium, which balances sodium levels.
  • Use fresh and dried herbs and spices to add flavour to your meals. 
  • Make small changes to your diet – cut down on condiments.
  • Avoid bread – one of the biggest culprits of hidden salt.
  • Choose unsalted nuts over biltong and salty French fries or crisps. 

Image credit: iStock

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