Less salt in food: an unprecedented study

For 12 weeks, 311 volunteers were part of a study that taught them how to change their eating habits to reduce salt intake. And their health thanks them.

This is an unprecedented study on the positive impact reducing salt intake has on health. For 12 weeks, 311 people took part in a programme aimed at teaching them how to cut down on salt and to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and were monitored by nutritionists and other health professionals.

The results are promising, demonstrating that the volunteers who completed the programme showed significant improvements in lowering their blood pressure just by reducing their salt intake and having healthier eating habits.

The study, called ReEducar (Re-education for healthier eating habits), was designed to gather scientific data to help assess how reducing salt intake, together with adopting healthier lifestyles, helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, thereby reducing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. For 12 weeks, several health professionals advised participants on shopping and performed the respective clinical assessment for the unprecedented study that sought to answer: Does sodium and potassium intact have a direct impact on health?

Pink Himalayan salt

Salt: Does it have a direct impact on health?

The benefits of reducing salt intake

Conceição Calhau, who is a professor at NOVA Medical School, coordinator of degree subject CUF LifeStyle Medicine and also one of the coordinators of the ReEducar study, highlighted the importance of this initiative for the specific data and insight it gives into the impact a change in eating habits has on our health, especially since salt intake in Portugal is very high (an average of 10.7 grams per day) and almost double the intake recommended by the World Health Organization (5.8 grams per day).

This is a public health problem in Portugal and is associated with several illnesses, particularly hypertension, which affects 40% of the population and could lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Conceição Calhau

Less salt, better health

This initiative was carried out under the ‘Programa Menos Sal Portugal’ (Cut Down on Salt Portugal Programme), launched in early 2019 by the Jerónimo Martins Group and José de Mello Saúde, through Pingo Doce and CUF hospital, respectively.

Gradually reducing the amount of salt in daily meals led to a decrease in blood pressure of 2.1 millimetre of mercury during the study. “It may not seem like a lot, but international studies show that two millimetres of mercury over time corresponds to a reduction of around 10% in mortality due to stroke”, explains Jorge Polónia, professor at the University of Porto’s Faculty of Medicine and medical specialist in internal medicine and hypertension at CUF Hospital, in Porto.

Two millimetres of mercury over time corresponds to a reduction of around 10% in mortality due to stroke.

Jorge Polónia

The doctor and researcher, who is also one of the coordinators of the study, further stated that the benefit “may have significant repercussions for reducing risk” and that, in some patients, it may even postpone “the start of therapy or, at least, significantly improve the effects of medicines they are already taking”.

Ceramic spoons with salt and spices

Replacing and reducing salt: how to change your habits

Salt: how to change your habits

In the survey answered by the participants at the end of the initiative, the vast majority – 95% – said they had learned a lot more about food and food composition.

Like Nuno Zanatti, for example, who has hypertension and admits that he learned how to read product labels and now only buys low-salt products. In fact, he decided to cut some products out of his diet entirely.

Another participant confessed that she now uses a “lighter hand” when cooking meals, using more aromatic herbs to enhance the flavour of food instead of salt.

The ‘Programa Menos Sal Portugal’ (Cut Down on Salt Portugal Programme) stresses the benefits of using bela-luz thyme.

An alternative with less salt

Pingo Doce used bela-luz thyme as an alternative to salt by adding it to a very special mayonnaise, one with a lower sodium content than traditional mayonnaise.