Put Down That Salt Shaker. It Might Help You Live 2 Years Longer

salt shaker

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study suggested that adults who regularly add salt to their food after cooking may be at a greater risk of dying early than those who never or rarely salt their food.
  • Eating potassium-rich fruits and vegetables may help mitigate excessive sodium consumption.
  • Aromatic herbs and spices could be a healthier alternative to salt.

Adding extra salt to your food might shorten your life expectancy, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.

The study found that adults who always salt their food after cooking were 28% more likely to die early from any cause when compared to adults who never or rarely add salt to their food. The findings suggested that, at age 50, always reaching for the salt shaker may reduce life expectancy by 1.5 years for women and 2.28 years for men.

Researchers used survey responses from the U.K. Biobank with data from over 500,000 adults. The survey asked respondents to rate how often they’re adding extra salt to their meals after cooking.

Lu Qi, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at Tulane University and a coauthor of the study, said the connection between salt intake and premature death has been unclear. While many studies have linked salt intake with increased mortality risk, others found no such correlation.

“While more evidence is needed, our study suggests behavioral modification to reduce adding salt to foods may benefit human health,” Qi said.

Should You Skip the Salt Shaker?

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 90% of Americans get too much sodium. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day, which is the equivalent of one teaspoon of table salt.

However, around 75% of sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods, instead of the salt shaker. And although certain foods like bread, chicken, cheese, and eggs may not taste salty on their own, they are some of the top sources of sodium.

This study suggested eating more fruits and vegetables to help reduce the risk of premature death because fresh produce contains potassium, a “protective nutrient” that may counteract the adverse effect of sodium, Qi said.

Sodium and Potassium

Sodium and potassium are both electrolytes used by the body to maintain blood volume and blood pressure. Getting too much sodium, and not enough potassium, can increase blood pressure. However, too much potassium can also lead to health concerns, especially for people with existing kidney, liver, or heart disease. The key is to strike a balance between sodium and potassium intake.

Grace Derocha, MBA, RD, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that our cells have a limited amount of “doors” for electrolytes and minerals to enter. By eating a diet with a variety of nutrients, there would be fewer channels for sodium to enter, she added.

Essentially, a balanced diet allows our body the opportunity to absorb many different nutrients.

Derocha said fruits and vegetables “offer natural hydration” that can help the body get rid of excess sodium.

“There are definitely other ways to flavor food without adding sodium,” Derocha said. For instance, aromatic herbs and spices such as garlic, onion, and ginger can add flavors to your food without increasing your sodium consumption.

Limitations of the Study

While the new study suggested that cutting back on using additional salt may have positive health benefits, there are a few limitations to consider.

This was an observational study, in which the findings could only suggest a relationship between added salt and reduced life expectancy. This type of study cannot be used to prove cause and effect.

To validate their findings, Qi said the researchers will need to conduct clinical trials.

Additionally, the researchers relied on self-reported data from the U.K. Biobank. While this provided a large sample size of over 500,000 individuals, most of the participants are White. Further studies would be needed to examine whether the same correlation exists in diverse groups of people.

And the added salt may just be one of the many indicators of an overall unhealthy lifestyle, Qi said. The habit of adding salt alone may not reflect a broader dietary pattern that’s responsible for the increased risk of premature death found in this study.

What This Means For You

The American Heart Association says that most adults should aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. However, certain individuals, like athletes or workers who spend a considerable amount of time outside, may need more sodium to replace what they lose in sweat.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ma H, Xue Q, Wang X, et al. Adding salt to foods and hazard of premature mortalityEur Heart J. Published online July 10, 2022. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehac208

  2. Cook NR, Appel LJ, Whelton PK. Sodium intake and all-cause mortality over 20 years in the trials of hypertension prevention. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2016;68(15):1609-1617. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2016.07.745

  3. Messerli FH, Hofstetter L, Syrogiannouli L, et al. Sodium intake, life expectancy, and all-cause mortality. Eur Heart J. 2021;42(21):2103-2112. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa947

  4. Jackson SL, King SM, Zhao L, Cogswell ME. Prevalence of excess sodium intake in the United States - NHANES, 2009-2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;64(52):1393-1397. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6452a1

  5. American Heart Association. 7 Salty sodium myths busted infographic.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Top 10 sources of sodium.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The role of potassium and sodium in your diet.