Health Plus
September 5, 2018

How Much Sodium Do You Need?

Sodium is an essential nutrient that your body needs to function. It helps maintain fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses, and affects the contraction and relaxation of muscles. While sodium is vital to these tasks, too much sodium is associated with increased blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. How much is too much? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon of salt) per day for healthy people and less than 1,500 mg for adults with high blood pressure, yet the average American consumes nearly 3,400 mg a day! So where is all this sodium coming from?

Sodium Sources

Small amounts of sodium are naturally present in vegetables, dairy, meat, and shellfish. It is also added to processed foods as a preservative and to enhance color and texture. These processed foods are the most significant sources of dietary sodium. Nearly half of the sodium consumed in the US comes from only 10 types of food! Some of these foods do not even taste salty. For instance, breads and rolls top the list of sodium sources, but you probably do not think of bread as salty. Lunch meat, soups, pizza, sandwiches, and poultry are the other top contributors. Other sources of sodium include snack foods, salad dressings, sauces, and cheese.

Simple Ways to Reduce Sodium

While you cannot control the amount of sodium hidden in processed foods, there are several easy ways to reduce your sodium intake. 

  1. Remove your salt shaker from the dining table.
  2. Taste your food before you reach for the salt shaker.
  3. Use fresh ingredients whenever possible.
  4. When buying groceries, read the nutrition label and choose low-sodium or no salt added products. As a general guide, 5% daily value (DV) or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20% DV or more of sodium per serving is considered high.
  5. Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables.
  6. Combine full sodium products with low sodium versions and gradually transition to only using the low sodium version.
  7. When out to eat, remember that foods described as pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, and smoked often have the most sodium. Instead, look for baked, grilled, roasted, and steamed options.
  8. Experiment with herbs and spices. There are several salt free seasoning blends available at the grocery store but you can also make your own using the spices in your cabinet!

Want to learn more about this topic? Here are some helpful resources.

Sodium Handout

Challenge

Choose foods with no added salt or those that are lower in sodium, like fresh foods, herbs, and spices. 

Recipes

5 Ingredient Lemon Chicken
All Purpose Seasoning

Sources

1. "Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Apr. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/sodium/art-20045479.