What is the issue on global salt intake limits?

Salt (Sodium Chloride) if taken in too much or too little quantity can cause health problems. Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication or hyponatremia. However, if large amount of salts is ingested, it may even cause death.

However, what should be the normal limit of Salt intake in humans, has been a controversial topic so far. In take of Salt has been linked to High Blood Pressure, Cardiovascular diseases, Cardiac enlargement and other problems such as Stomach Cancer, Oedema etc.

Salt is known to cause high blood pressure or hypertension that is responsible for many of deaths due to stroke and heart attack. This is mainly because; Sodium makes blood vessels less able to expand and contract and may toughen heart cells.

  • In the United Kingdom the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended in 2003 that, for a typical adult, the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 1.6 g salt per day.
  • However, the actual salt intake was two to three times more than this worldwide. WHO recommendation is of 5 gm salt consumption a day.
  • There was a global effort made by the United Nations Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Summit in New York, which had an agenda of setting a target for daily salt consumption at 5 grams, in order to reduce deaths due to stroke.
  • This was because a formal alliance of four international federations — International Diabetes Federation, Union for International Cancer Control, World Heart Federation and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease — representing the four main NCDs, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disease, the European Union countries, Australia, Japan, US and Canada have refused to support the recommendation and requested its removal from the agenda.

The same is for India.

Here, an average Indian requires 6 grams of salt per day but consumes 9-10 grams of salt a day. India does not have an official target for reduction in salt consumption.

The officers who represented India in the recent summit say that just by reducing salt consumption, India can reduce incidents of stroke by 25% and heart attacks by 10%, but there is no limit of maximum salt intake in India. Tobacco and high blood pressure are the primary risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in India. BP is the main risk factor for stroke. The sodium potassium ratio in our body is important for stroke mortality. We gain potassium through the fruits and vegetables we consume. So for populations like Indians, which consume low potassium and high salt, risk for stroke is higher. Most of the scientific community wishes the summit took a stronger position on salt consumption levels.