Sodium intake in Canada, and its health risk.
Salt has long been a treasured food staple. Salt provides two elements: sodium and chloride, both are essential for life. Your body cannot make these elements on its own, so you must get them from your diet.
As well as that, salt is very important when it comes to preserving food. See the nutritional chart at the back of, for instance, a can soup next time you are in a supermarket: chances are it is pretty high in sodium.
Salt does great things for the body: it’s essential for the health of all the cells. Along with potassium, you need salt so that your nerves can function and your muscles can contract. Salt helps to balance out the body, it contributes to fluid, electrolyte and pH balance.
However, as per Health Canada, the average sodium intake for Canadians is about 3400 mg, which is more than 2x the recommended daily intake. If you are a healthy adult, your upper limit for daily sodium intake should not exceed 2300 mg per day, and if you suffer from a coronary disease like high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, aim for 1500 mg daily.
Kazakhstan, where I am from, has the highest average sodium intake in the world, measuring at whopping 6000 mg per day! Their average life expectancy is 67.35, versus 68.50 global average (according to the World Health Organization).
Salt is made of sodium and chloride, but the processed (table) salt also has man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and flow agents, dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate.
The more sodium we have in our bloodstream, the more water it binds. As such, sodium is thought to increase blood pressure (and it does, though mildly). If blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to push the blood throughout the body, and there is increased strain on the arteries and various organs. High blood pressure (AKA hypertension) is a major risk factor for many serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Cardiovascular disease deaths.
Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. These statistics are based on 2008 data (the latest year available from Statistics Canada).
In 2008 cardiovascular disease accounted for (Statistics Canada, 2011c):
- 29% of all deaths in Canada (69,703 deaths – or more than 69,500)
- 28% of all male deaths
- 29.7% of all female deaths
In 2008, of all cardiovascular deaths (Statistics Canada, 2011c):
- 54% were due to ischemic heart disease
- 20% to stroke
- 23% to heart attack
Its not a secret, that too much salt can kill you. But how much is “too much”? Apparently, 0.45g/lb of body weight. If the average person weighed 150 lbs, then about 5 tablespoons will be a lethal dose.
My girlfriend Maria and I are guilty of binge-watching TV series. The day before yesterday, a new show we’re watching, “30 Rock”, passingly mentioned the dangers of high-sodium diet, which made me think, “how much sodium do I take per day?” I really like clamato (clam + tomato) juice, and my evening meal usually includes a large sandwich with bacon and pickles, and a glass of the juice. To my surprise, a nutritional chart at the back indicated that 250 ml (about 1 glass, give or take) contains 800 mg of sodium. And that’s almost 1/3 of the upper limit for adults. In just one glass! Add the 300 mg from the 2 slices of bacon, more from pickles, and the potato chips (even though I prefer Boulder branded ones, which have nothing but potatoes, vegetable oil and salt), that is already pretty close to the 1500 limit, which I should be aiming to.
TL;DR: Canadians eat too much salt – on average 4000 mg. daily vs. 2300 upper limit recommended for healthy adults, or 1500 for ones suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. If needed, reduce the salt intake to the adequate level; read the nutritional chart before you eat something; try to replace the table salt with the healthier kosher, additive-free or sea salt. Keep in mind that no salt is also dangerous, and, as anything else, salt is good for you in moderation.
Refer to Health Canada article on sodium consumption: