The World Health Organization released the results of a comprehensive study on the impact of salt on human health. It estimates that reducing salt intake in processed foods could save 7 million lives by 2030. There has been little uptake from food manufacturers to change their products.

Salty Foods Cause A Range Of Diseases

Salt, which is 40% sodium, has long been associated with cardiovascular disease, strokes and other medical conditions. WHO estimates that elevated salt intake is one factor in the 17.9 million people who die of cardiovascular disease globally each year.

WHO’s recommendations focus on government intervention. Legislation could limit the amount of added salt in processed foods and enforce compliance through testing and regulation.

Setting a Salt Limit

The global average salt intake is 10.8 grams of salt per day per person. That’s more than double the recommended levels established by WHO, the Centers for Disease Control, and other organizations, including the American Heart Association. Hundreds of studies confirm both the healthy levels of salt and the mineral’s impact on human health, though some reports funded by the food industry have challenged those assertions.

Related: Ultraprocessed Foods Linked to Colorectal Cancer

Lowering Salt Intake: A Lack of Progress

The WHO targeted salt intake a decade ago, setting a goal to reduce global consumption by 30%. All 194 member nations, including the US, signed on; none are on track to meet the goal. Instead, the 30% reduction goal has been pushed back to 2030. According to the WHO, only 9 of the 194 member nations have implemented any measures that address salt consumption in any way.

Don’t Blame the Salt Shaker

You can skip your dash of salt at the dinner table, but there’s a good chance any given meal you tuck into already has a day’s worth of sodium. More than 70% of the average American’s salt intake comes from processed food.

Food manufacturers have fought salt restrictions and guidance tooth and nail for decades. In response to new food label guidelines announced in September, the Consumer Brand Association sought to raise the proposed limits and push back the timeline for making any changes.

Making A Change

Consumers can lower their salt intake by avoiding processed – and ultraprocessed – foods as much as possible. If it came in a box, a bag, or has a commercial on TV, it’s processed. Instead, choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Aim for 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day or less, which is about the same as a teaspoon of table salt.

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