Cardiovascular disease and one of its complications – stroke – are the leading causes of death around the globe, with some estimates putting the number of lives claimed as high as 17.3 million each year. The message of World Heart Day, held each year on Sept. 29, is that this figure need not be nearly so high.
The themed observance was established in 2000 as a way to draw global attention to importance of heart health, including the issue of cardiovascular disease, its complications and ways in which it can be addressed, including preventative measures.
World Heart Day themes are different each year. For 2014, the World Heart Federation has selected “creating heart-healthy environments”, while the World Health Organization has chosen to focus on the issue of excess salt intake, which is linked to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
“The places in which we live, work and play,” the WHF states, “should not increase our risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). But individuals frequently cannot make heart-healthy choices due to environmental factors, such as the availability of healthy food or smoke-free zones.”
Two things most people can do in favor their health is to exercise and pay attention to their diet, which is where the WHOS’s sodium intake recommendations come in. Reducing sodium intake by a relative 30 percent by 2025, in fact, is one of the WHO’s nine “Global action plan to reduce noncommunicable diseases”.
To do so, WHO is calling on countries to take action on the overuse of salt by implementing WHO’s sodium reduction recommendations to cut the number of people experiencing heart disease and stroke, and, in turn, save lives.
The main source of sodium in most people’s diet is salt, whether in the form of sodium glutamate or sodium chloride. According to the WHO, in many countries, around 80 percent of salt intake comes not from table salt but from processed foods such as bread, cheese, bottled sauces, cured meats and pre-packaged meals.
On average, according to the WHO, people consume around 10 grams of salt per day. That is nearly double the organization’s recommended level – less than 5 grams (or one teaspoon) per day – from all sources, including processed foods, pre-packaged meals and food prepared at home. In fact, the WHO recommends that children aged 2 to 15 years consume even less salt than that, adjusted to their energy requirements for growth.
Some of the WHO’s evidence-based strategies to reduce salt consumption at government level include having regulations and policies in place to ensure that food manufacturers and retailers reduce the levels of salt in food and beverage products, as well as having agreements with the industry to ensure that manufacturers and retailers make healthy food with low salt content both available and affordable.
Some of the WHO’s strategies for consumers to reduce salt intake include:
-reading food labels when buying processed food to check salt levels;
-asking for products with less salt when buying prepared food;
-removing salt dispensers and bottled sauces from dining tables;
-limiting the amount of salt added in cooking to a maximum amount of 1/5 of a teaspoon over the course of a day;
-limiting frequent consumption of high salt products; and
One takeaway message from the observance – and one to bear in mind year round – is that making heart-healthy choices need not be hard choices.