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Low-sodium salt alternatives may lower risk of stroke, study finds

Making this dietary change can be beneficial for those with heart concerns

Photo (c) Thitaree Sarmkasat - Getty Images
A new study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology explored a diet change that may benefit consumers’ long-term heart health.  

According to their findings, swapping salt for low-sodium alternatives may be effective at lowering the risk of stroke for those with a history of stroke or high blood pressure. 

“This study provides clear evidence about an intervention that could be taken up very quickly at low cost,” said researcher Bruce Neal. “A recent modeling study done for China projected that 365,000 strokes and 461,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year in China if salt substitute was proved to be effective. We now have shown that it is effective, and these are the benefits for China alone. Salt substitute could be used by billions with even greater benefits.” 

Heart health benefits of low-sodium options

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 20,000 participants enrolled in the Salt Substitute and Stroke Study (SSaSS) from 2014 through 2015. All of the participants were either struggling to maintain healthy blood pressure levels or had experienced a stroke. One group of participants was instructed to use a salt substitute when cooking, and another group carried on with their normal diets as usual. The researchers evaluated the participants' heart health over the course of nearly five years and paid particular attention to cardiovascular events, potassium levels, and mortality rates. 

The study showed that the risks of stroke, cardiovascular events, and death were all lower when the participants used a salt substitute. Replacing full-salt seasoning with the reduced-salt alternative contributed to the greatest heart health and longevity outcomes for the participants. 

“The trial result is particularly exciting because salt substitution is one of the few practical ways of achieving changes in the salt people eat,” Neal said. “Other salt reduction interventions have struggled to achieve large and sustained impact.” 

The researchers are excited about these findings because of the low cost associated with low-salt substitutes. Not only are there health advantages to consuming less salt, but this option would also be realistic for consumers from low-income backgrounds. 

“Importantly, salt substitute is very easy to manufacture and it is not expensive,” said Neal. “A kilo of regular salt, which lasts for months, costs about $1.08 in China. The price for a kilo of salt substitute is $1.62/kg. It is primarily lower-income and more disadvantaged populations that add large amounts of salt during food preparation and cooking. This means that salt substitute has the potential to reduce health inequalities related to cardiovascular disease.” 

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