It’s long been known that too much sugar and salt in the diet is bad for health, but two recent Harvard studies bring all that home by pointing out just how many people die as a result of consuming too much sugar and salt in their diets. The first Harvard study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed study, focuses on the fact that 180,000 worldwide deaths per annum, including 25,000 in the US, were linked to sugary drinks. The impact of the news was particularly strong following New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized sodas, which was overthrown by a judge early in March 2013.
According to ABC News, another study undertaken by the same team of researchers has now revealed that one in ten Americans die partly from the over-consumption of salt. This amounts to approximately 250,000 deaths a year. The researchers claim that sodium is even more dangerous than sugar simply because it is easier to avoid sugar in food than it is with sodium. Pre-packaged food, such as ready meals, are particularly susceptible to high levels of sodium and unfortunately, many people with busy lifestyles rely on ready meals rather than cooking from fresh.
The study is a meta-analysis of 247 surveys about salt intake, as well as 107 clinical trials linking the consumption of salt and blood pressure and the impact of blood pressure on cardiovascular disease. One of the conclusions is that high levels of sodium are usually linked to the elderly, but actually, one in three of the deaths occur in the under-seventies, making it an issue for everyone.
However, the study has its critics, most notably the Salt Institute, which claims it is sensationalist and not based on fact. According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2010, the daily recommended allowance for sodium is 1,500mg for those over the age of 51, or those with diabetes or high blood pressure. For everyone else above the age of two, it is 2,300mg. Yet the study’s lead author suggests that it should be much lower, at 1,000mg for everyone.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant may have recently signed a bill that prevents municipalities from regulating food and drink, claiming that everyone has the right to regulate their own diet. Nevertheless, reminding people on a regular basis that they should be careful what they put into their bodies has to be a good thing. Whether the Harvard study is melodramatic or not, there is little doubt that the majority of Americans could do with cutting down on their sodium intake, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate to be currently about 3,400mg a day.
There are a number of steps that people can take to limit their sodium intake. This includes cutting down on the amount of pre-packaged food that is consumed, eating more meals cooked from scratch and increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet. Communities can work together to lower sodium intake by putting pressure on local restaurants, school and work canteens, and supermarket chains to reduce sodium levels in their foods.