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The Globe and Mail

Reducing salt intake can decrease the odds of heart problems drastically

Beware of the hidden salt in processed foods - it could be ruining your health.

A new study shows excessive dietary sodium is contributing to almost 17,000 cases of stroke, heart attack and heart failure each year in Canada.

Medical experts say the average adult needs between 1,200 and 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day - equivalent to three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. (Salt is sodium chloride and about 40 per cent of table salt, by weight, is sodium.)

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Canadians seem to love salt and currently consume more than twice the required amount - an average of 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Some people are extremely sensitive to dietary sodium. It can help push their blood pressure up, which in turn elevates the odds of developing cardiovascular disease.

The new study by researchers at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, the University of Calgary and British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, concluded that between 8,300 and 17,000 fewer Canadians would suffer strokes, heart attacks and heart failure each year if sodium consumption was brought into line with what the body needs.

"Reducing dietary sodium could dramatically improve the health of Canadians," said Norm Campbell, one of the study authors.

However, keeping your hands off the salt shaker isn't enough. That's because 80 per cent of the sodium in the average person's diet is added to food before it's purchased. Everything from pasta to pizza is loaded with salt.

"Many consumers may not be aware they are eating excessive sodium," the researchers write in their study published in The Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

Last year, Health Canada set up the Sodium Working Group, made up of health and industry representatives, to figure out ways to reduce salt consumption. The researchers say their study reiterates the need for government action.

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