Study: Salt could shave years off your life, but fruit and vegetable intake may help

A recent study suggests that while increased salt intake lowers life expectancy, eating fresh fruits and vegetables may reduce the chance of premature death.

A recent study suggests that while increased salt intake lowers life expectancy, eating fresh fruits and vegetables may reduce the chance of premature death.

People who always add salt to their meals face a 28% increased risk of dying prematurely compared with those who never or rarely add salt, according to a study published earlier this month in the European Heart Journal.

The study found that compared to never or rarely adding salt to foods, always adding salt was associated with lowering life expectancy at the age of 50 by a year and a half in women and just over two years in men.

The study followed 501,379 participants for an average of nine years, and findings accounted for factors that could affect outcomes, such as age, race, sex, body mass index, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol intake, and medical conditions including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Dr. Jason Singh, an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Manassas, Virginia. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

“The researchers also found that increasing the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables weakened the association between salt use at meal times and premature death,” said Dr. Jason Singh, a board certified primary care physician at Kaiser Permanente in Manassas, Virginia.

Singh, who did not participate in the research, explained that the risk was lower in those who ate more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables because potassium helps process sodium out of the body.

“And we know that potassium helps to lower blood pressure,” Singh told WTOP.

“For me, (the study) really just emphasized our recommendations to modify eating behaviors to improve health, especially toward cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Although he said cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Americans, it is a modifiable risk factor that people can control.

“This is something we can do and I think it’s important for us to be cognizant of it,” he said.

The DASH diet, Singh said, was created specifically for people with high blood pressure because it’s low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. It includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, fish, chicken, turkey, beans and nuts.

The U.S. News & World Report Best Diet Rankings for 2022 listed the DASH Diet as tied for the No. 2 spot on its best overall diet ranking list.

Some quick tips related to sodium control recommended by Singh:

  • Start looking at food labels.
  • Avoid canned soups and processed foods, such as boxed rice mixes that have seasoning packets.
  • Compare the amount of sodium in different products.
  • Realize options considered low sodium contain less than 140 milligrams per serving.
  • Try to keep your total daily sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams.
  • Some hidden sources of sodium that people may not realize include condiments such as ketchup, salad dressings and soy sauce.

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