Why we Indians love salt so much and why it is so dangerous. Experts answer

Dristi Sharma
Dristi SharmaSep 27, 2023 | 14:08

Why we Indians love salt so much and why it is so dangerous. Experts answer

New study reveals that all adults, regardless of their sociodemographic backgrounds, had higher salt intake than recommended levels. GIF: dailyO

We Indians truly cherish our spices and our food, but more often than not, we tend to consume excessive amounts of salt, surpassing the recommended levels. According to a recent study, the average Indian consumes 8 grams of salt daily, even though the maximum recommended level is 5 grams per day.

What the study revealed

  • In a study recently published in the journal Nature Portfolio, researchers conducted a sample survey as part of the National NCD (Non-Communicable Diseases) Monitoring Survey.
  • One aspect of this survey involved monitoring the urinary sodium levels, a crucial component of salt, in 3,000 adults. Salt intake was estimated using a standardized formula recognised globally.

Key findings of the study

The study unveiled that all adults, regardless of their sociodemographic backgrounds, had higher salt intake than the recommended levels. Notably, men had a higher daily salt intake at 8.9 grams, compared to women at 7.9 grams per day.

Similarly, specific groups, such as those who were employed (8.6g), current tobacco users (8.3g), obese individuals (9.2g), and those with elevated blood pressure (8.5g), were found to have a higher salt intake than their counterparts who were unemployed, non-tobacco users, non-obese, and individuals with normal blood pressure.

The mean dietary salt intake is high in the Indian population, which calls for planning and implementing control of dietary salt consumption measures. We need to cut down on eating processed foods and those cooked outside home.
- Prashant Mathur, lead author of the study and director of ICMR-National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research

Three grams aren't negligible

If you believe that 3 grams are a negligible amount and harmless, consider this context: Dr Prashant Mathur, the director of ICMR-National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research and the leader of the Nature Portfolio study, explained to Times of India that a global decrease in daily dietary sodium intake by at least 1.2 grams could lead to a 50% reduction in the number of people needing anti-hypertensive treatment.

Why we consume so much salt

Dr Darshini Bali, a dietitian from Noida, explains to DailyO that to understand this phenomenon, we need to consider our background. She says, "Our country has an agricultural history, so whenever there was a lot of water loss due to high manual labor, salt intake increased. Consequently, there was an increase in cravings for salt, which is again passed down through our genetics."


Even today, our food habits continue to include a significant amount of salt intake. For instance, we consume salted pickles or chutney with our meals, further increasing our salt levels.

The harm of excessive salt

The study also pointed out that salt is the root cause of many fatal diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, gastric cancer, and hypertension. Let's take a look at some numbers to understand it better:

  • In 2016, there were 1.63 million deaths attributed to hypertension, a substantial increase from 0.78 million deaths in 1990.
  • High sodium consumption in the diet is associated with cardiovascular diseases and could contribute to 3 million deaths globally.
  • In addition to cardiovascular effects, high salt consumption may also be a potential risk factor for gastric cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily salt intake of 5 grams, which is more than adequate.

Dr Darshini concurs with the study, stating that excessive salt can lead to the aforementioned diseases, but an excessive salt intake can also result in weight gain.

How to reduce your sodium intake?

Dr Darshini and Dr. Namita Nadar, dietitians from Noida, provide us with several ways to reduce our salt intake:



  • Read food labels: Check food labels for sodium content and choose products with lower sodium levels. Foods labeled as "low sodium" or "sodium-free" can be good options.
  • Cook at home: When you cook at home, you have control over the ingredients you use. Limit the amount of salt you add during cooking and try using herbs and spices for flavor instead.
  • Use salt alternatives: Dr Darshini suggests considering salt substitutes like rock salt or black salt. She also advises using herbs and spices like garlic, onion, pepper, and lemon to enhance the taste of your dishes without adding salt.
  • Avoid processed foods: Processed and packaged foods often contain high levels of sodium. Try to limit your consumption of things like salted chips and other snacks.
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Include a variety of them in your diet to add flavor and nutrients without excess salt.
  • Limit pickles and chutneys: Dr Namita says, "Indians tend to add pickles or some kind of spicy chutney with their meal, which actually has so much sodium." Avoid eating them, or at the very least, limit their intake.

Remeber this

If you're accustomed to a high-salt diet, reduce your intake gradually. Your taste buds will adjust over time, and you'll become more accustomed to lower-salt flavors.

Last updated: September 27, 2023 | 14:08
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