Sodium, one of the components of salt, is a mineral that is found in every cell of the body, with greatest concentrations in the fluid outside and in between cells. Sodium regulates the water content inside and outside our cells.
Sodium helps with the performance of many functions in the body. Some of them include:
- Regulation of fluid balance and blood pressure
- Helps transport glucose into the cell
- Carbon dioxide transport
- Muscle contraction
- Nerve impulse transmission
It is recommended that people get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Certain adults should reduce intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This includes:
- Adults aged 51 years and older
- African Americans
- People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease
The Institute of Medicine has set Adequate Intake (AI) levels for sodium. This AI is the recommended daily average intake for healthy and moderately active people.
Adequate Intake (AI)
|Children: 1-3 years||1,000 mg|
|Children: 4-8 years||1,200 mg|
|Children: 9-18 years||1,500 mg|
|Adults: 19-50 years||1,500 mg|
|Adults 51-70 years||1,300 mg|
|Adults 71 years and older||1,200 mg|
Too Little Sodium
Since the typical American diet is rich in sodium, deficiencies are uncommon in healthy people.
A sodium deficiency may accompany extreme body fluid loss, such as in the case of starvation, profuse sweating, or excess vomiting or diarrhea. It may also accompany kidney failure, heart failure, chronic liver disease, or use of some diuretics.
Too Much Sodium
High sodium intakes have been correlated with elevated blood pressure and edema. Increasing dietary salt intake might also raise the risk of developing kidney stones.
Major Food Sources
Table salt is the major source of dietary sodium—about 1/3 to 1/2 of the sodium we consume is added during cooking or at the table. Fast foods and commercially processed foods, which are canned, frozen, bagged, boxed, or instant, also add a significant amount of sodium to the typical American diet. These include:
- Beef broth
- Commercial soups
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Salted snack foods
- Sandwich meats
- Tomato-based products
Sodium occurs naturally in:
- Milk products
- Softened water
Reading Food Labels
All food products contain a Nutrition Facts label, which states a food's sodium content. The following terms are also used on food packaging:
|Food Label Term||Meaning|
|Sodium free||Less than 5 mg/serving|
|Very low sodium||35 mg or less/serving|
|Low sodium||140 mg or less/serving|
|Reduced sodium||25% reduction per serving in sodium content from original product|
|Light in sodium or lightly salted||At least 50% less sodium than the original product|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
Tips for Lowering Your Sodium Intake
- Read the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in the foods you are buying.
- Gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. Your taste buds will adjust to less salt.
- Taste your food before you salt it.
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking, such as garlic, oregano, lemon or lime juice, and other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
- Opt for fresh foods instead of processed ones. For example, select fresh or plain frozen vegetables and meats instead of those canned with salt.
- Look for low sodium or reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of such foods as: canned vegetables; vegetable juices; dried soup mixes; bouillon; condiments; snack foods; crackers and bakery products; canned soups; butter, margarine; cheeses; canned tuna; and processed meats.
- Cook and eat at home. Adjust your recipes to gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. If some of the ingredients already contain salt, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, or cheese, you do not need to add more salt.
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt or with less salt than the package calls for. Flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes generally already contain added salt.
- Limit your use of condiments such as soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
- When dining out, order a low-salt meal or ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
- Also when dining out, ask for sauces and dressings to be served on the side, so that you can control the amount that you add.
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
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Other dietary components. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers-other-dietary-components. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Salt. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm. Updated December 28, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Sodium and salt. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Sodium-Salt-or-Sodium-Chloride_UCM_303290_Article.jsp#.WLCBCk2QzIU. Updated October 3, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Sodium (chloride). Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/sodium. Accessed December 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Sodium chloride. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T356397/Sodium-Chloride. Updated February 6, 2017 Accessed February 24, 2017.
Sodium in your diet: using the nutrition facts label to reduce your intake. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm315393.htm. Updated June 2, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Tips to eat less salt and sodium. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/healthdisp/pdf/tipsheets/Tips-to-Eat-Less-Salt-and-Sodium.pdf. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/24/2017