Recommendations 9 and 11 Background

Salt has been used to preserve food for thousands of years. Other use of salt has been that of a flavor enhancer. Often food preservation uses salting in conjunction with smoking and curing. These recommendations deal solely with salt intake and salted foods. It does not include other methods of preservation like smoking and curing.

The AICR/WCRF panel states that refrigeration of food protects against stomach cancer by possibly reducing the use of salt for the purpose of preserving food and by making year-round availability of fresh vegetables and fruits possible. According to the panel, there is convincing evidence that…diets high in Cantonese-style salted fish increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer, notably in early life

The following table summarizes the evidence reviewed by the panel.

Salt, Salting and Refrigeration and Cancer

Evidence Decreases risk Increases risk
Convincing Refrigeration
  • Stomach
Salted fish
  • Nasopharynx
Probable   Salt and salted food
  • Stomach

Adapted from Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, 1997



Foods in nature are naturally poor sources of salt (sodium chloride) and are proportionally much higher in potassium. Foods become salty when salt is added for preservation as part of some process or to make them more appealing.

Functions of Sodium

Regulator of extracellular fluid, osmolarity, acid-base balance and membrane potential of cells. In other words, sodium is essential to life.


Adults require approximately 500 mg (half gram) of sodium per day; 115 mg for those that do not sweat much has been suggested. This requirement addresses minimum needs.

The daily recommended goal of salt is 6 grams, or 2400 mg of sodium (about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.)

Salt content per 100 grams of edible food:
  • 5-10 grams in salted fish
  • 2-6 grams in processed meat (bacon, ham and sausage)
  • up to 5 grams in snacks (potato chips, pretzels and peanuts
  • up to 4 grams in breakfast cereals
  • 1.5-4 grams in bread and other starchy foods

Salt is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride. So 6 grams of salt has 2.4 grams of sodium.

Salt intake in the world ranges from 12 mg to 10-12 grams. In most industrial countries the average figure is 8-10 g of salt (or 3200-4000 mg of sodium.)

1 measuring teaspoon of salt = 2000 mg of sodium, approximately

The advent of industrial and domestic refrigeration has made salting unnecessary and perishable foods available all year round. This is considered to have made an impact on the decline of stomach cancer.

See Recommendations 9 & 11 "How to" for practical advice


EXTOXNET FAQS Diet and Cancer Homepage

Prepared 1998 by Bernadene Magnuson, Ph.D.
University of Idaho, Dept. of Food Science and Toxicology - EXTOXNET FAQ Team.