The World Health Organization (WHO) has reviewed its fact sheet on salt reduction.
- Sodium is an essential nutrient necessary for maintenance of plasma volume, acid-base balance, transmission of nerve impulses and normal cell function.
- Sodium is found naturally in a variety of foods, such as milk, meat and shellfish. It is often found in high amounts in processed foods such as breads, processed meat and snack foods, as well as in condiments (e.g. soy source, fish source)
- Sodium is also contained in sodium glutamate, used as a food additive in many parts of the world.
- Excess sodium is linked to adverse health outcomes, including increased blood pressure.
- Potassium is an essential nutrient needed for maintenance of total body fluid volume, acid and electrolyte balance, and normal cell function.
- Potassium is commonly found in a variety of unrefined foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
- Increased potassium intake reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults.
- High sodium consumption (>2 grams/day, equivalent to 5 g salt/day) and insufficient potassium intake (less than 3.5 grams/day) contribute to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- The main source of sodium in our diet is salt, although it can come from sodium glutamate, used as a condiment in many parts of the world.
- Most people consume too much salt—on average 9–12 grams per day, or around twice the recommended maximum level of intake.
- Salt intake of less than 5 grams per day for adults helps to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack. The principal benefit of lowering salt intake is a corresponding reduction in high blood pressure.
- WHO Member States have agreed to reduce the global population’s intake of salt by a relative 30% by 2025.
- Reducing salt intake has been identified as one of the most cost-effective measures countries can take to improve population health outcomes. Key salt reduction measures will generate an extra year of healthy life for a cost that falls below the average annual income or gross domestic product per person.
- An estimated 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year if global salt consumption were reduced to the recommended level.
Recommendations for salt reduction
- For adults: WHO recommends that adults consume less than 5 g (just under a teaspoon) of salt per day.
- For children: WHO recommends that the recommended maximum intake of salt for adults be adjusted downward for children aged two to 15 years based on their energy requirements relative to those of adults. This recommendation for children does not address the period of exclusive breastfeeding (0–6 months) or the period of complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding (6–24 months).
- All salt that is consumed should be iodized or “fortified” with iodine, which is essential for healthy brain development in the fetus and young child and optimizing people’s mental function in general.
How to reduce salt in diets
Salt consumption at home can be reduced by:
- not adding salt during the preparation of food;
- not having a salt shaker on the table;
- limiting the consumption of salty snacks;
- choosing products with lower sodium content.
Misperceptions about salt reduction
- “On a hot and humid day when you sweat, you need more salt in the diet:”There is little salt lost through sweat so there is no need for extra salt even on a hot and humid day, although it is important to drink a lot of water.
- “Sea salt is not ‘better’ than manufactured salt simply because it is ‘natural.’” Regardless of the source of salt, it is the sodium in salt that causes bad health outcomes.
- “Salt added during cooking is not the main source of salt intake.” In many countries, about 80% of salt in the diet comes from processed foods.
- “Food needs salt to have appealing flavour.” It takes some time for a person’s taste buds to adjust, but once they get used to less salt, one is more likely to enjoy food and notice a broader range of flavours.
- “Food has no flavour without salt.” Whilst this may be true at first, taste buds soon become accustomed to less salt and you are more likely to enjoy food with less salt, and more flavour.
- “Foods high in salt taste salty.” Some foods that are high in salt don’t taste very salty because sometimes they are mixed with other things like sugars that mask the taste. It is important to read food labels to find out sodium levels.
- “Only old people need to worry about how much salt they eat:” Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure at any age.
- “Reducing salt could be bad for my health:” It’s very difficult to eat too little salt since there are so many everyday foods containing salt.
Disclaimer: These recommendations apply to all individuals, with or without high blood pressure (including pregnant and lactating women), except individuals with illnesses or those taking drug therapy that may lead to low sodium levels or acute build-up of body water, or require physician-supervised diets (e.g. patients with heart failure and those with type I diabetes).
Link to the fact sheet on salt reduction:
Link to the WHO eLENA page on reducing sodium intake to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular diseases in adults:
Link to WHO guideline document on sodium intake for adults and children:
Link to WHO guideline document on potassium intake for adults and children: