People who add salt to their meals at the table have a 28% increased risk of dying early, new research has shown.

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers found that at aged 50, people who always add salt to their food before eating knock off 1.5 years (for women) or 2.28 years (for men) from their life expectancy.

In people aged between 40 and 69, around three in every 100 people die prematurely – the latest findings around the risks associated with salt consumption indicates one extra person per 100 people could be dying early.

Lead author Professor Lu Qi, from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, said: “To my knowledge, our study is the first to assess the relation between adding salt to foods and premature death.

“It provides novel evidence to support recommendations to modify eating behaviours for improving health. Even a modest reduction in sodium intake, by adding less or no salt to food at the table, is likely to result in substantial health benefits, especially when it is achieved in the general population.”

The study, which involved more than 500,000 people, took a closer look at how many people add salt to their meals before eating, aside from any salt that may be added during the cooking process. The participants were followed for an average of nine years, with early death being classed as dying before the age of 75.

Examining people’s salt habits is difficult as some food, especially processed foods, already has high salt levels. Salt is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and cancer.

Professor Qi said: “Adding salt to foods at the table is a common eating behaviour that is directly related to an individual’s long-term preference for salty-tasting foods and habitual salt intake.

“In the Western diet, adding salt at the table accounts for 6-20% of total salt intake and provides a unique way to evaluate the association between habitual sodium intake and the risk of death.”

He added: “Because our study is the first to report a relation between adding salt to foods and mortality, further studies are needed to validate the findings before making recommendations.”

Read the study in full in the European Heart Journal.

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