An exciting study from China shed light on the usefulness of salt substitutes. It found that salt substitutes can help heart health. However, because of the American diet, the results might not be useful.
Researchers looked at almost 21,000 people in 600 rural villages in China. In the study, 72 percent of people had a history of stroke, and 88 percent had high blood pressure. They were given a salt substitute and asked to use it in place of regular salt for cooking, seasoning and pickling. It was made from 75 percent sodium chloride and 25 percent potassium chloride. They were also asked to cut back on it overall as it still contained some sodium.
The results showed that people over the age of 60 lowered their risk for a future stroke. That’s wonderful as it’s such a simple preventative measure. Knowing that such a simple swap had such a large payout reaped a large reward is heartening. However, the researchers said it might not mean much outside of China.
When asked if the results are relevant to the U.S., Dr. Elizabeth Klodas said, “Although I wish I could say yes, it’s more realistic to say probably no… This was also a study of a unique genetic/cultural group with specific dietary habits/patterns and may not translate to other populations… In rural China, most meals are cooked from scratch, so sodium intake is under the control of the food preparer. Americans consume far more pre-prepared and processed foods — and a lot of those items deliver a lot of sodium even before we pick up the salt shaker.”
We simply don’t cook enough of our food. Even if you think you cook all of your meals, how many of your ingredients come from jars? She points out that a bagel has 450 milligrams of salt. Very few of us bake our own bread. Because so much of our salt intake is out of our control, salt substitutes might not help unless you swap to cooking all of your own foods from unprocessed ingredients. You have to start from the very beginning to see this difference. And, she points out, the Chinese diet the people in the study were following was even more salt-heavy than our own. Swapping out even more salt completely for a salt substitute is bound to have a more significant result.
While this doesn’t mean you should give up on salt substitutes, don’t pin all your hopes on them. You can use this research as inspiration to start cooking more meals from scratch. Or you can use it to remind yourself that a great way to cut down on salt is to forgo processed snacks and sides in favor of picking more fresh vegetables and fruit that don’t contain salt. Cutting salt out of your diet can lower your health risks dramatically, just not as dramatically as this new study might suggest.