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Swapping Out Salt With This Could Prevent Millions of Deaths, New Study Says

Here's how this salt substitute can benefit your heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Replacing table salt with a substitute that includes added potassium and reduced sodium could significantly reduce the number of deaths caused by heart attack and stroke, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In one of the largest dietary studies on sodium ever undertaken, researchers did a randomized trial on over 20,000 men and women in 600 villages in rural China. All participants either had a history of stroke, were over 60 years old, or had high blood pressure—all factors that put them at higher risk of early mortality from cardiovascular issues.

RELATED: Diet Habits That Are Increasing Your Risk of Stroke, According to Science

Over a five-year period, half of the participants used a salt substitute comprised of 75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride, while the other half continued to use regular salt, which is 100% sodium chloride.

types of salt
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At the end of the study timeframe, those in the salt substitute group showed 14% lower stroke risk, 13% lower incidence of other cardiovascular events, and 12% less risk of premature death. The researchers noted these numbers could translate into the prevention of about 400,000 premature deaths yearly just in China alone. If those lower risks were similar worldwide—which researchers believe would be the case—that means millions of people would benefit from the simple switch to a salt substitute.

Although sodium amount is a major factor here, the other key to better heart health is potassium, which is lacking in regular salt. The mineral works as an electrolyte in the body, according to dietitian Shena Jaramillo, RD, of Peace and Nutrition, and it's essential for cardiovascular function but also for a range of other benefits.

"Potassium regulates everything from fluid shifts in and out of every cell in the body, and is also important for maintaining bone mineral density," she says. "It plays a role in proper hydration as well." For the heart, potassium helps regulate heartbeats as a way to circulate blood in the cardiovascular system and throughout the body.

In addition to adding a small amount through a salt substitute, potassium is also high in foods such as:

  • Dried fruits
  • Potatoes
  • Beans and lentils
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Winter squash

Adding more foods like these into your diet could be a powerful way to improve health overall, Jaramillo adds, since they also contain a range of other vitamins and minerals in addition to fiber. That means a switch in your salt intake is helpful, but a bigger boost might be to look at what's on your plate, too.

For more, be sure to check out Popular Foods With More Potassium Than a Banana. Then, be sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth