Are we really eating too much salt?

Questions and answers about salt

How much salt is still healthy?

A maximum of 6 grams of table salt per day is the recommendation for adults from the German Nutrition Society (DGE). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating only 5 grams of salt per day. The WHO recommends lower values ​​for children in accordance with their lower energy requirements.

Age groupSalt per day maximum
Adults6 grams
Children 1 - 3 years2 grams
Children 4 - 6 years3 grams
Children 7-10 years5 grams
Children 11 years and older6 grams

Recommendations for children according to NHS UK National health service.

How much salt does the body need?

Table salt consists of the two minerals sodium and chloride. Sodium is responsible for regulating the water balance and the transmission of stimuli from muscle and nerve cells. Chloride is a component of digestive juices. A salt intake of 1.4 grams is estimated as the lower limit for daily salt intake (minimum amount).

How high is the current salt intake of the German population?

On average, men eat 10.0 grams and women in Germany 8.4 grams of salt daily, but more salt is often consumed. Around half of men and more than a third of women consume more than 10 grams of salt every day. Even children and teenagers often eat too many foods rich in salt.

What are the health consequences of too much salt?

Salt can lead to high blood pressure, which over time damages important organs such as the heart, coronary arteries, brain, kidneys and blood vessels. The result can be life-threatening diseases such as heart attacks or strokes. Studies to the contrary, which are supposed to show that lower salt consumption is linked to higher mortality, have been heavily criticized by experts. Without a doubt, there is no danger in Germany that we eat too little salt. Large-scale studies, however, clearly show that the less salt a society consumes, the lower the blood pressure values ​​and the fewer victims of heart attacks and strokes. Salt is also a likely risk factor for the development of stomach cancer.

When does one speak of high blood pressure?

From a value of 140/90 mm Hg and higher a doctor speaks of high blood pressure (hypertension). Optimal blood pressure values ​​are below 120/80 mm Hg. The range between 120/80 and 140/90 is referred to as “suboptimal”. Such suboptimal blood pressure values ​​are usually not treated with medication, but they do increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

How common is high blood pressure?

According to a study by the Robert Koch Institute, around a third of adults in Germany suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension). A good 80% of those affected know about the disease. In about half of hypertensive sufferers, the blood pressure is adjusted with medication so that it is no longer above the threshold value for hypertension. In the other half, around 15.4% of the adult population, the blood pressure, partly with partly without treatment, is in the range of hypertension.

Only a third of the adult population has blood pressure that, if left untreated, is in the optimal range. Another third have blood pressure in the suboptimal range. However, high blood pressure is not a phenomenon that only affects adults. In the study on the health of children and adolescents in Germany (KiGGS), around half of the boys and a quarter of the girls in the group of 14 to 17-year-olds had blood pressure values ​​that were at least in the suboptimal range.

High blood pressure is often recognized late because you cannot see or feel it. Often the blood pressure is measured during routine examinations and high blood pressure is determined in this way. Certain hereditary factors and personal lifestyle favor the development of high blood pressure. There are four main factors that bring blood pressure into dangerous levels: too little exercise, unhealthy diet, overweight and stress.

What does "salt sensitive" mean?

Salt sensitivity is a measure of how blood pressure responds to sodium intake. In contrast to salt-sensitive people, salt-resistant people are able to excrete too much salt effectively without a rise in arterial blood pressure. However, the number of people sensitive to salt is relatively high. According to estimates, every third person is sensitive to salt. The only question is: who knows? A clinically standardized test (such as for diabetes) does not yet exist, but there are experimental investigations, e.g. the first test procedures developed at the University of Münster.

Studies show that overweight people and people with metabolic syndrome, e.g. diabetics, very often have a significantly increased salt sensitivity. 56 percent of high blood pressure patients and 29 percent of people with normal blood pressure are salt-sensitive.

Doesn't a salt reduction only make sense for people who are sensitive to salt?

Against the background of the widespread prevalence of high blood pressure and suboptimal blood pressure values ​​in the population, the search for possible approaches to lowering blood pressure represents an important preventive measure. The evidence, i.e. the effectiveness of a reduction in salt intake on the blood pressure values ​​of the population, is convincing. And it is up to you to add salt as you wish.

Will there be a loss of taste if the salt content is reduced?

The preference for a salty taste is a matter of getting used to. When the salt content in foods and dishes is gradually reduced, the taste receptors are given time to gradually get used to the change. Then a salt reduction succeeds to a certain extent without any problems. In the case of bread, it even seems possible to halve the salt content. In one study, the 52 percent reduction had no effect on bread consumption, and the participants did not resort to more salty bread toppings either. After 4 weeks, they had reduced their salt consumption by a significant 25 percent.

Can the salt content in all foods be reduced without technological problems?

With bread, lowering the amount of salt is not a technological problem, but with cheese and sausage, salt has specific effects on the products.

Various study groups and companies are working on reducing salt, for example in meat products. Neither food safety nor shelf life should be impaired. In some cases, the recipes and the procedures have to be revised. The Max Rubner Institute, Federal Research Center for Nutrition, is also working on new technologies on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. In particular, it is about less salt in meat products, fish products, cheese and vegetable juices.

Table salt fulfills important technological and sensory functions in cheese. Although salt levels can vary widely, there is an optimal salt level for each type of cheese. This takes into account various aspects such as the manufacturing process or the variety-specific microflora. The possibilities for a salt reduction are heavily dependent on the type of cheese.

A German ham specialist has been offering raw ham with 25 percent less salt than in comparable products since 2013. This ham is said to have the same shelf life as ham that is salted using conventional methods. The specification for Parma ham was also changed in 2013 and the upper limit for salt was lowered by 10 percent.