SALT is responsible for more than one in seven deaths from heart attacks and strokes, research has revealed.
At least 2.3 million heart-related deaths around the world were caused by excess salt in 2010 – 15 per cent of the total for that year.
Nearly one million of those who died were under 70 – meaning salty diets are killing many people in their prime.
Men are most likely to die from salt-related heart conditions, as they comprise 60 per cent of the deaths.
Lead researcher Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, of Harvard Medical School in the US, called for governments around the world to encourage people to cut down on salt.
He said: “It could potentially save millions of lives.”
Yesterday experts warned diners to watch out for salt in restaurant food, takeaways and ready meals as well as avoiding adding salt at the table.
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that eating too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. But you may not be aware of just how much salt is ending up on your plate.
“As well as steering clear of the salt shaker, we need to watch out for the salt that’s added to the foods we buy, or order in restaurants.
“Picking products with a green traffic light for salt will help you to limit your intake.”
Public health minister Anna Soubry last week announced plans to slash Britain’s salt consumption by a quarter. She wants more food companies to sign up to a “responsibility deal” to help cut the daily salt intake from an 8.1 grams a day average to 6g.
The number of people adding salt at the table fell by more than a quarter in the five years following a 2003 public health campaign urging people to cut down, a recent study revealed.
Salt use at the table accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of people’s total intake.
Previous research has shown that cutting back on salt and saturated fat in processed foods would save thousands of lives each year and save the NHS millions of pounds.
Heart and circulatory disease is the UK’s biggest killer, claiming 180,000 lives a year, but 80 per cent of premature heart disease is avoidable by changes to diet, stopping smoking and exercising.
A report by Birmingham University showed that cutting salt intake by just 0.1oz a day, or cutting trans fats – found in biscuits and cakes – by 0.7 per cent would save up to £30million a year.
The new US study, presented to the American Heart Association’s conference in New Orleans, found that 84 per cent of the 2.3 million deaths were in low and middle-income countries.
The highest proportion were in Ukraine and Russia, with the lowest rates in Qatar, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.
Researchers analysed 247 surveys of adult sodium intake between 1990 and 2010, taking into account age, gender, region and country, to determine how the amount of sodium consumed was affecting people’s risk of cardiovascular disease.