Sodium intake may increase the risk of in some.
A large part of the general public can be described as salt sensitive. This means that their blood pressures can increase when they eat a high-sodium diet. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Being salt sensitive also means their blood pressures may be lowered if they have less sodium in their diet. It can play an important role in managing high blood pressure.
It is not easy to diagnose salt sensitivity. This means it is also hard to know how much sodium is safe for each person. Many believe that all people should limit their sodium intakes to either treat or prevent hypertension. Others think that only those who seem to be salt sensitive should limit salt. US dietary guidelines suggest no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. People with high blood pressure, people older than 50 years, African Americans, people with diabetes, and people with kidney disease should limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.
One diet called DASH has been carefully studied. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. It is also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat. It has been shown to help lower blood pressure. When the DASH diet was combined with lower sodium intake blood pressure was reduced even further. In fact, when DASH was combined with sodium intake of 1,600 mg per day or less it was as effective as a drug to decrease high blood pressure. For some people, this change in diet alone may be all that is needed to keep blood pressure under control
Sodium is found in many foods. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you.
Major Food Sources
Sodium chloride, better known as table salt, is the major source of dietary sodium. Only a small amount of sodium comes from salt added during cooking or at the table. Most come from fast foods and processed foods such as:
- Beef broth
- Commercial soups
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Salted snack foods
- Sandwich meats
- Tomato-based products
Sodium also occurs naturally in:
- Milk products
- Soft water
Reading Food Labels
All food products contain a Nutrition Facts label. Sodium content will be listed here. 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|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
Be aware that a package or can may contain a number of servings.
Tips for Lowering Your Sodium Intake
Here are some tips to help you lower your sodium intake:
- Read the nutrition label. Look for the amount of sodium. Be aware of how many servings are listed.
- 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. It may not need more salt.
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking. Try garlic, oregano, 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 versions of your favorite foods
- Cook and eat at home. Adjust your recipes to gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. Some of the ingredients such as canned soup or vegetables already have salt. You may not need to add more salt.
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes generally already contain added salt.
- When dining out, order a low-salt meal. You could also ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
- Limit your use of condiments. Soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces have a lot of added salt.
Making dietary changes takes time. Start slowly and find what works best for you.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Dietitians of Canada
About sodium (salt). American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/About-Sodium-Salt_UCM_463416_Article.jsp#.WLmnik2QzIU. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed March 3, 2017.
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T170319/DASH-diet. Updated January 15, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.
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 October 1, 2018.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated September 12, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.
Salt. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm. Updated December 28, 2016. Accessed October 1, 2018.
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#.WLmoqk2QzIU. Updated October 3, 2016. Accessed March 3, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2018 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 10/1/2018