A study conducted by the Australia-based George Institute of Global Health has revealed that the average daily salt intake for Indians above the age of 19 is 10.98gms per day, which is more than double the World Health Organization recommendation of 5gms.
In a media release, the lead author of the study, Claire Johnson, said: “Over the past 30 years the average Indian diet has been transformed. They are eating less pulses, fruits and vegetables and lots more processed and fast foods."
“As a result their diets are now full of salt, sugars and harmful fats which are driving up rates of high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke,” she added.
Not just processed food, but also traditional Indian cuisine relies heavily on salt. While, at most Indian homes, nothing leaves the kitchen without tasting food for its salt quotient, the same core ingredient has been established as the cause of some of the major health problems beyond hypertension.
According to the study published in Journal of Hypertension, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for some 2.3 million deaths each year in India. Of this, a quarter are attributed to high blood pressure, which could lead to thickening of heart muscles and trigger heart attack. The study predicts that by 2030 the number of people suffering from high blood pressure in India will nearly double to 213 million. Though salt is not the sole contributor to developing the condition, it certainly increases the risk.
High blood pressure could also lead to a stroke, which usually occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and the cells die due to insufficient oxygen supply to the brain. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic strokes which are triggered by blocked blood vessels, and haemorrhagic strokes caused when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain. Thus, not just heart, but brain too could fall victim to high salt levels in the body.
Osteoporosis and kidney stones
High salt intake could increase the risk of osteoporosis, or thinning of bones, as excess salt can cause bones to lose calcium, which is then excreted in the urine. High blood pressure can further speed up the loss of calcium from the bones, resulting in brittle bones with increased risk of fracture. Furthermore, build up of calcium in kidneys can cause kidney stones.
Eating a lot of salt with reduced water intake could lead to fluid retention in the body, characterised by increased blood pressure and swelling of hands, ankles and feet, along with other tissues. In many cases, reducing the salt intake and drinking more water can help in flushing out the excess salt from the body, but if the salt intake is chronically high then drinking more water may not help much.