People who sprinkle extra salt on their food face an increased risk of dying early, new research has found.
A study of more than 500,000 people concluded those who always add the seasoning have a 28% greater chance of premature death compared to people who do so rarely or never.
Typically around three in 100 people aged 40 to 69 die early across the general population.
But the research, published in the European Heart Journal, found one extra person in every 100 could succumb to early death as a result of added salt.
Men aged 50 stand to lose around 2.28 years of their life by consuming extra salt, the study established.
Women the same age could see their life expectancy drop by around a year-and-a-half.
Almost 18,500 premature deaths (under the age of 75) were recorded during a follow-up nine years after the data was collected between 2006 and 2010.
The new study was led by Professor Lu Qi, of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans in the US.
Professor Qi, who worked alongside colleagues from Harvard medical schools, said: “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.”
Even a “modest reduction” in sodium intake can result in “substantial health benefits”, Professor Qi said.
The research took into account factors that could affect the results including age, sex, race, deprivation, body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity and diet, together with health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The risks of early death linked to added salt were slightly reduced in people who ate more fruit and vegetables – however the difference was not “significant”.
“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,” Dr Qi said.
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British Heart Foundation senior cardiac nurse Chloe MacArthur warned how the “vast majority of salt” is already in products before they are purchased – meaning people consume more than they realise – and called on ministers to find ways to encourage the food industry to reduce salt.
“We need some salt in our diet, but eating too much may lead to high blood pressure, which in turn raises the risk of heart attack and stroke,” she said.
The National Food Strategy, a major review by businessman and restauranteur Henry Dimbleby, included recommendations for a salt and sugar tax in a bid to reduce obesity.
But it was ditched by Boris Johnson who insisted it was not the right time to start “whacking new taxes” on unhealthy food and claimed people should simply “eat less”.