Excessive salt consumption is a reality in Portugal. The Portuguese consume an average of 10.7 grams of salt a day, according to a study by PHYSA, which corresponds to twice the amount recommended by the health authorities.
This excessive intake can be a trigger for various diseases. Hilda Freitas, an internal medicine doctor (graduate hospital assistant), explains that “when we reduce salt intake, we reduce stroke mortality”.
“Excessive salt consumption can lead to hypertension, which leads to cardiovascular disease and stroke. It increases the risk of dementia, kidney disease (and kidney stones), osteoporosis because it causes calcium to be destroyed in the urine,” he said. doctor in an interview with SIC News.
In 2020, according to data from Portadata, diseases of the circulatory system (including stroke, hypertension and heart failure) were the leading cause of death in Portugal (28%). But excessive salt consumption can be a risk factor for other diseases.
“Excessive salt intake is also linked to the development of stomach cancer. There are certain areas in Portugal where many sausages are eaten and in these areas there is a higher prevalence of stomach cancer,” he said.
According to Hilda Freitas, obesity, premature aging, and fluid retention can be problems associated with salt consumption. “If people want to lose weight, they have to reduce the amount of salt they eat,” he said.
In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a target of a 30% reduction in salt / sodium intake for all member countries, including Portugal. The goal is to get the average salt intake of the population below 5 grams of salt (ie <2 g of sodium) per day by 2025.
An estimated 11 million deaths worldwide are associated with a poor diet, three million of which are attributed to high sodium intake.
There are alternatives to salt: how can we replace it in meals?
Spices and herbs such as oregano or basil can be an alternative to salt. “There are a lot of herbs that people can combine, it’s a matter of experimenting,” says Hilda Freitas. Lemon can also work well in fish dishes.
“Changing habits is harder than taking a pill,” the doctor said, arguing that socially the population is educated to have a certain type of taste.
- Taste the food while it is cooking to avoid over-seasoning;
- Pay attention – or avoid whenever possible – the sauces and condiments already prepared;
- Try seasoning meat, fish and salads with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar;
- Reduce salt gradually. Sudden changes may not work;
- Do not add salt to the chips. You can choose to make a homemade sauce.
Food is a physiological necessity, but it is also a source of pleasure. So start by reducing the salt gradually and experiment with different spices and herbs.
Sodium (salt) is necessary for the proper functioning of the human body, but fresh foods naturally already contain the sodium levels we need, no need to add them.
Which foods have the most salt and what should we avoid?
What do labels tell us?
When shopping, it is important to check the amount of salt on the product label. How can the name salt appear?
- salt content;
- NaCl (sodium chloride);
- Na (chemical symbol for sodium);
- monosodium glutamate;
- baking soda;
- sodium bisulfate;
- disodium phosphate;
- Sodium hydroxide;
- sodium propionate.
The Portuguese Hypertension Society advises the population to avoid buying products that contain more than 5% of the recommended daily allowance (DRR) of sodium or more than 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams.
However, according to the WHO, it is necessary to go further and further reduce salt in food products. In the 2021 recommendations, the health organization assessed the specifics of thousands of products, categorized them, and issued new targets (you can check the categories and recommended amount of salt for each here). If you go to the pantry or refrigerator, you will have no trouble finding products with salt levels above (some well above) WHO targets.
And the children?
The World Health Organization recommends limiting children’s salt intake to 3 grams per day, two grams below the recommended amount for adults. Babies should not eat food with added salt at all.
The data from studies conducted in recent years are not encouraging. The later children are exposed to salt, the less likely they are to have high blood pressure. However, according to data published by the Portuguese Society of Hypertension, around 12.8% of children and young people between the ages of 5 and 18 have high blood pressure.
Another study completed in 2017 by Dr. Jorge Cotter at Guimarães Hospital found that about 60% of the 300 children who participated in the research consumed more salt than their parents, who in turn they already have excessive consumption.