Up to 52,000 lives a year could be saved if people significantly reduced the amount of salt in their diets, researchers have claimed.
Processed foods often have high salt content
They say cutting salt intake from the average of 12 grammes a day to three, it could prevent the deaths from stroke and heart disease.
Writing in the journal Hypertension, the researchers said the food industry could cut salt levels easily.
Around 80% of salt intake is said to come from processed foods.
The researchers, from St George's Hospital Medical School in London, said even a small reduction in salt intake of 10%, or one gramme, would save 6,000 lives a year and prevent a further 6,000 strokes and heart attacks which people survive.
Strokes and heart disease kill 250,000 people in the UK each year. Too much salt can raise blood pressure, a risk factor for both conditions.
If adults limited their intake to six grammes a day - the level recommended by the government - the researchers estimated up to 35,000 lives could be saved.
Campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), which was involved in the research, said the food industry had to cut the amount of salt in manufactured products.
They said that would be the easiest way to reduce people's salt intake without
But the food and drink industry says it has already taken action to cut the levels
of salt in products such as breakfast cereal and bread.
Feng He, one of the researcher's who wrote the paper, said: "Our research demonstrated that there is a dose response to salt reduction - the larger the reduction in salt intake, the larger the reduction in blood pressure.
"From the well-researched link between blood pressure and deaths from stroke and heart disease, we were able to calculate how many lives would be saved by reducing salt intake.
"We showed that reducing salt intake by nine grammes per day, for example, from the current average of 12 grammes per day to three grammes per day, would prevent around 20,500 stroke deaths and 31,400 heart disease deaths per year. This equals almost 52,000 lives that could be saved each year."
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Cash, who also co-wrote the report, said
the current six gramme target was based on what the Scientific Advisory Committee on
Nutrition deemed to be feasible in the UK.
He said: "We believe that the targets should be set according to the maximum potential
health benefits, not according to the convenience of the food industry.
"Whilst the current six grammes per day target will save many lives and prevent many
from suffering strokes and heart attacks, we need to start planning to reduce
salt intake by a further three grammes per day."
"This would reduce all strokes in the UK by one-third and all heart disease
by one-quarter of the current levels."