Salt forms an important part of our daily diet. Apart from that salt is an important ingredient for a variety of purposes, from preserving food to being a component in road de-icing. We get salt from a variety of food items, especially from processed food (used as a preservative) and fast food. However, a new study has revealed that a diet heavy in salt content can increase the chances of you getting stomach cancer by many times.
How Much Salt Do We Actually Need?
Salt is an essential ingredient in our daily diets, lending flavor to the food. It is basically composed of sodium and chlorine ions bonded in an ionic bond. The sodium part is the main problem causing agent, when present in excess amounts.
- We need a minimum amount of 1500mg/day of sodium, and a maximum of ~2300mg/day. Multiply that by 2.5 and you need an average of ~6g/day of salt in your diet.
- However, the current consumption is close to around ~8.6g/day, which is considerably higher than the recommended intake.
- The primary reason for the increase in salt intake is because people have started consuming a lot of fast foods, junk foods and processed foods, which have large amounts of salt in them. Some foods, like curries and pizzas, provide you with your daily intake of sodium in one sitting only.
- Salt is required for daily internal activities at the cellular level. The sodium and chlorine ions help in transmission of signals between cells and nerves.
How Does Excess Salt Harm Us?
Salt is presumed to be the single most harmful component of the food chain today, judging by the levels it has reached in our daily diet.
- Excess amounts of sodium can lead to a surge in blood pressure and prolonged over-use of sodium heavy foods can lead to cardiac problems like heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrests and also lead to problem of kidney failures.
- Excess amount of sodium in the diet is also linked to an increase in the chances of stomach cancer.
- Consumption of sodium in the form of preserved foods and salted foods is more likely to have an effect on development of stomach cancer.
- This is primarily because cases of stomach cancer are high in Japan and China and other Asian countries, where such foods are usually eaten.
- However, such cases are also present in countries which consume a lot of salted/ salt-preserved foods.
- According to a report, high intake of salt may “directly damage the stomach lining or increase endogenous N-nitroso compound formation.“
- However, low levels of iodized salt cause a disease called Goitre, which leads to swelling in the hormonal gland. Over 90% of the cases of Goitre are due to lack of iodized salt only.
- This is especially true in New Zealand, where such cases used to crop up a lot a few decades back.
- A study has also established that along with the high sodium intake, smoking and lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet are factors leading to increase in cases of stomach cancers, especially among men.
- The normal salt intake is 2g/day for children between 1-6 years of age, 5g/day for children between 7-14 yrs of age. 1 teaspoon has 2400mg of sodium, and that is about how much salt you should consume daily.
How To Decrease Your Salt Intake
Decreasing your salt intake will go a long way in helping reduce the possibility of occurrence of a few diseases. Its no easy task, but here a few ways to decrease the amount of sodium that goes into your system.
- Choose products which have “low salt-content” or “no added salt” and prefer foods which use herbs and spices for flavoring.
- Slowly reduce the amount of sodium you add to food while cooking. Your taste buds will take their time to adjust, but will gradually adjust. Its better to adjust rather than becoming a heart patient and having it forcibly removed from your diet.
- Swap your salted snacks like chips, nuts and other similar snacks for non-salted nuts, yogurt and similar healthy options.
- Use spices like garlic, black pepper, chilly powder and ginger and herbs and lemons instead of salt to give flavor to the food.
- Eat freshly prepared food rather than take-away, as you can control the amount of sodium that goes into the food.
- Minimize the amount of processed meat consumed, and rather concentrate on eating fresh meat. Avoid bacon, cured meats and sausages as they have high levels of salt and are known to cause bowel cancer.
- Reducing salt intake to under 6g/day would save upto 150,000 thousand lives per year, and take off a burden of around $1.5 trillion from healthcare over the next 20 years.
What Next Then?
- In UK alone, almost 14% of the 6000 odd cases of stomach cancer reported annually could have been avoided if people stick to the 6g/day magical mark.
- Stomach cancer is a difficult to detect and treat in the early stages. According to Kate Mendoza, head at WCRF:
Stomach cancer is difficult to treat successfully because most cases are not caught until the disease is well-established.
- The view is backed up by Katherine Jenner, who says that eating less than 6g/day can significantly cut out on the risk of cardiac problems.
This places even greater emphasis on making lifestyle choices to prevent the disease occurring in the first place – such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables.
- A new proposal was floated to label food products with colours depending on their salt content, just like traffic lights.
- A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed this, by saying:
We already know too much salt can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. That is why we are taking action through the ‘Responsibility Deal’ to help reduce the salt in people’s diets. And we are looking at clearer… labelling on foods as part of our consultation on front-of-pack labelling.
- However, this has been opposed by food companies and retail outlets.