Salt

There is a physiological requirement for the mineral sodium, and salt (chemically sodium chloride) is the major dietary source of sodium. One of the basic senses of taste is for saltiness — a pleasant sensation (section 1.3.3.1). However, average intakes of salt in Western countries are considerably higher than the physiological requirement for sodium. Most people are able to cope with this excessive intake adequately by excreting the excess. However, people with a genetic predisposition to develop high blood pressure are sensitive to the amount of sodium in their diet. One of the ways of treating dangerously high blood pressure (hypertension) is by a severe restriction of salt intake. It is estimated that about 10% of the population are salt sensitive, and epidemiologically there is a relationship between sodium intake and the increase in blood pressure that occurs with increasing age.

The problem in terms of public health and dietary advice to the population at large (as opposed to specific advice to people known to be at risk of, or suffering from, hypertension) is one of extrapolating from clinical studies in people who have severe hypertension, and who benefit from a severe restriction in salt intake, to the rest of the healthy population. It is not clear whether a modest reduction in salt intake will benefit those salt-sensitive individuals who might go on to develop severe hypertension. Nevertheless, it is prudent to recommend reducing the average intake of salt by about one-quarter, to a level that meets requirements for sodium without providing so great an excess over requirements as is seen in average diets at present.

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