WELL SEASONED

Chinese people are cutting back on salt, but they still eat a ridiculous amount

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

The Chinese diet is becoming less salty, but Chinese still eat more sodium and salt than nearly any country in the world.

A new study, published Tuesday (Feb. 16) in the US journal Jama, finds the average salt intake in China dropped 22% between 2000 and 2009-2011. But Chinese, on average, still consume 9.2 grams of salt every day, nearly twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization, and more than double what US residents eat on average every day.

The researchers from UNICEF and China’s official food safety institution recorded the dietary salt consumption of households in 12 provinces, covering about 50% of the Chinese population.

China’s overall sodium intake declined only 12% during the same period. (Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, but sodium is also present in other seasonings like soy sauce.) Chinese on average consume 5.6 grams of sodium per day, while WHO recommends less than 2 grams per day.

Several studies have highlighted Chinese citizens high sodium consumption. A 2013 study published in BMJ estimated Chinese citizens consumed 4.83 grams (pdf, p.10) of sodium in 2010, ranking among the world’s highest:

“China’s diet is changing and refrigeration is replacing salt for food preservation,” the researchers wrote in their finding, but the sodium intake remains high due to “addition of salt and other seasonings during food preparation, and increasing consumption of processed food.”

“Although average salt consumption of Chinese residents fell significantly during the 10 years, it’s still far from the ideal sodium intake,” lead author Wu Yongning of China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment told Xinhua news agency this month. Soy sauce and pickled vegetables contribute to the high sodium intake, Wu explained.

To much sodium intake leads to high blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and strokes, the top two causes of death (pdf) in China in 2010.

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