Heart disease needs no introduction. The disease, which encompasses heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and more, is the number one cause of death in adults, killing one person every 34 seconds in the U.S. But new research suggests a simple way to cut your individual risk of getting heart disease, and that making that one minor tweak can lessen your odds of developing cardiovascular-related medical problems by nearly 20%.
Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans analyzed UK Biobank data from 176,570 adults. They found that those who reported adding salt to their food more frequently were more likely to suffer from a cardiovascular event — heart failure and ischemia were the most common — than those who reported less salt intake.
Of the 176,570 adults analyzed, 9,963 total cardiovascular events were noted. The most common was ischemic heart disease, also called coronary heart disease, the condition that leads to heart attack, with 6,993 cases, followed by 2,007 stroke cases, and 2,269 cases of heart failure.
Those who reported rarely or never adding salt to their food aside from what they used during preparation were 26% less likely to develop ischemic heart disease and 37% less likely to develop heart failure than those who reported always adding salt to meals.
The research team also noted that those whose diets closely resembled the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, a diet that promotes the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, legumes, and nuts, and who reported rarely or never adding salt, experienced the fewest cardiovascular events.
"Our results indicate an additive role of lower salt preference and a healthier diet in cardiovascular disease prevention," the research team wrote. "Adding salt to foods (usually at the table) is a common behavior in the diet of some Western countries and is modifiable through health education," they noted. "Our findings also indicate that behavioral interventions to reduce adding salt to foods may improve cardiovascular health, even in those with a DASH-style diet."
Although a common table-side addition, salt has long been associated with adverse health outcomes. Previous research has associated high salt intake with not only cardiovascular problems, but also with kidney dysfunction, cancer, and loss of bone density, especially in women.
Diets high in fruits and vegetables with little to no processed foods are ideal for managing sodium intake overall, but adding salt to foods at the table, regardless of what you’re eating, can lead to heart problems down the road. If you find yourself adding salt to your food frequently and not using salt as a flavor boost seems impossible, consider trying a non-sodium alternative like potassium chloride instead of table salt.