Getting to the Heart of a Healthful Diet: Sodium
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming a maximum of 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. However, the organization advocates setting a goal of a maximum of 1,500 mg for most adults.
High sodium intake can increase the risk of having high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Some people may be more sensitive to salt than others, but most Americans are still getting much more sodium in their diets then they need. There is evidence that if adults eat less sodium, their blood pressure decreases.
Since it is difficult to know who among us will benefit most from less salt, most organizations recommend that we all limit our salt intake. According to the US Department of Agriculture, adults should limit their salt intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day. And those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, as well as African Americans and adults 51 years or older should limit their sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day.
A major study in this area is DASH, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat helped lower blood pressure. This is now known as the DASH diet. The second phase of the study found further reductions in blood pressure when the DASH diet was combined with a sodium intake of no more than 2,300 mg per day.
Sodium is found in many foods. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you.
Major Food Sources
Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, 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, such as canned, frozen, and 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
- Soft 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 in sodium content from original product|
|Light||Sodium is reduced by at least 50% per serving|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
Tips For Lowering Your Sodium Intake
Follow these tips to help lower your sodium intake:
- Read the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in the foods you are purchasing.
- Gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. Your taste buds will adjust to less salt.
- Do not add salt from the salt shaker at the table. Or add much less than before. Taste your food before you salt it; it may not need more salt.
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking, such as garlic, oregano, onion, lemon or lime juice, or other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
- Opt for fresh foods instead of processed foods. For example, select fresh or plain frozen vegetables and meats instead of those canned with salt.
- Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of foods you eat every day.
- 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.
- When dining out, order a low-salt meal or ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
- Limit your use of condiments such as soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
Making dietary changes takes time, so go slowly and allow your taste buds to adjust.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T170319/DASH-diet. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Updated December 2015. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated February 7, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Most Americans should consume less sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm. Updated December 28, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Salt and sodium. 10 tips to help you cut back. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/sodium. 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#.WLCdyU2QzIU Updated October 3, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/24/2017