It's the ultimate salt vs. sugar smackdown! On Monday we reported that sugary drinks have been linked to 180,000 deaths worldwide annually. Now a new report presented at a conference yesterday says that eating too much salt kills 2.3 million people every year, CBS News reports.

Researchers looked at 247 surveys on salt intake that were part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, which included data from 50 countries. To figure out the number of deaths tied to salt consumption, they analyzed that data along with findings from more than 100 medical trials that measured the role of sodium in increasing blood pressure and the risk for stroke and heart disease.

The scientists then compared the heart risks to those found in people who consumed 1,000 milligrams of sodium per day or less, which the researchers called “optimal” intake. (The U.S. government recommends a maximum intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, while the American Heart Assn. recommends a cap of 1,500 milligrams a day.)

They found that about 15 percent of all heart-disease deaths worldwide in 2010 could be linked to salt consumption. (Three-quarters of the world's population consumes more than twice the daily recommended amount of salt, about 4,000 milligrams per person, according to the AHA.)

Sixty percent of cardiovascular deaths linked to salt intake occurred in men, and 40 percent in women, according to the study. Heart attacks were responsible for more than 40 percent of the deaths, strokes for another 40 percent, and other types of heart disease accounted for the rest. Nearly 1 million of these deaths — 40 percent of them — were considered “premature” because they occurred in adults younger than 69 years old.

Previous AHA surveys have shown that Americans consume on average 3,400 milligrams of salt per day. However, this study found 84 percent of all salt-related deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. The U.S. ranked 19th out of 30 countries with 429 deaths per 1 million adults linked to eating too much salt — or about one in 10 U.S. deaths. However, in people under age 70, salt consumption was tied to one in three U.S. deaths.

More than 75 percent of salt intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods, and only 11 percent comes from salt added while cooking or eating, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The countries with the highest death rates from salt were Ukraine (2,109 deaths per 1 million adults), Russia (1,803 per 1 million adults) and Egypt (836 per one million adults.

The fewest deaths linked to salt were reported in Qatar (73 per 1 million adults), Kenya (78 per 1 million adults) and the United Arab Emirates (134 per 1 million adults).

The findings were presented at the AHA's 2013 Scientific Sessions, and are considered preliminary since they've yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal (like the sugary drink study).

“National and global public health measures, such as comprehensive sodium reduction programs, could potentially save millions of lives,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, lead study author and co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

However, the salt data only shows an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told Everyday Health. “They're trying to extrapolate millions of deaths based upon salt intake, but it's not based upon any data on mortality and salt,” he said. “It's also based on an extrapolation of the effect of sodium on blood pressure, which is a very big reach, and not a reliable estimate of the burdens of salt.”

Sounds like the doc is saying a Cool Ranch Doritos taco is A-OK! With a Diet Coke, of course.

See also:

Sugary Drinks Linked to 180,000 Deaths Annually

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