Sodium

Sodium can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

What It Is

The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. Sodium is a mineral and one of the chemical elements found in salt. Salt (also known by its chemical name, sodium chloride) is a crystal-like compound that is abundant in nature and is used to flavor and preserve food.

Where It Is Found

About 75% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods, whereas only a small portion (11%) comes from salt added to food when cooking or eating.

More than 40% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from the following 10 types of foods, many of which are commercially processed or prepared:
  • Breads and rolls
  • Cheese (natural and processed)
  • Cold cuts and cured meats (such as deli and packaged ham and turkey)
  • Mixed meat dishes (such as beef stew, chili, and meat loaf)
  • Mixed pasta dishes (such as lasagna, pasta salad, and spaghetti with meat sauce)
  • Pizza
  • Poultry (fresh and processed)
  • Sandwiches (such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and submarine sandwiches)
  • Savory snacks (such as chips, crackers, popcorn, and pretzels)
  • Soups

What It Does

  • Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the human body in relatively small amounts (provided that substantial sweating does not occur).
  • Sodium is important for many body processes, such as fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nervous system function.
  • As a food ingredient, sodium has multiple uses, such as for curing meat, baking, thickening, retaining moisture, enhancing flavor (including the flavor of other ingredients), and as a preservative.

Health Facts

  • Most Americans exceed the recommended limits for sodium in the diet. On average, Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day.
  • Diets higher in sodium can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) makes the heart work harder, and the high force of the blood flow can harm arteries and organs, such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. Hypertension can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.
  • Approximately 56% of adults in the U.S. (ages 18 years and older) have either hypertension or prehypertension (blood pressure that is higher than normal, but not high enough to be defined as hypertension). Additionally, approximately 10% of children in the U.S. (ages 8 to 17 years old) have either hypertension or prehypertension.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per daythat’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt! Adults with hypertension and prehypertension should further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, which can result in even greater blood pressure reduction. Adults who would benefit from blood pressure lowering should also combine lower sodium intake with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan (see http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash).

Potassium Helps


Sodium and potassium both affect blood pressure, and eating foods high in potassium can help lower blood pressure by reducing the adverse effects of sodium on blood pressure.

Examples of foods rich in potassium include bananas, beet greens, juices (such as carrot, orange, pomegranate, and prune), potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and tomato products, white beans, and yogurt (non-fat and low-fat).

Food manufacturers may voluntarily list the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of potassium per serving on the Nutrition Facts Label, but they are required to list potassium if a statement is made on the package labeling about its health effects or the amount contained in the food (for example, “high” or “low”).

Action Steps For Reducing Sodium in Your Diet

Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for reducing consumption of sodium. The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages shows the amount in milligrams (mg) and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of sodium in one serving of the food.
The Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,400 mg per day.
  • When comparing foods, choose foods with a lower %DV of sodium. The goal is to get less than 100% of the Daily Value for sodium each day. And remember:
    • 5% DV or less of sodium per serving is low
    • 20% DV or more of sodium per serving is high
  • Look for sources of sodium on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples of ingredients that contain sodium are: saline, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium chloride (salt), sodium nitrite, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
    Tip: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight — the closer an ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.

  • Look for light, low sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added versions of packaged foods, when available.
  • Prepare your own food when you can and limit packaged sauces, mixes, and “instant” products (including flavored rice, instant noodles, and ready-made pasta).
  • Limit the amount of salt you add to foods when cooking, baking, and eating. Instead, flavor foods with herbs and spices and no-salt seasoning blends.
  • Choose fresh meats, poultry, and seafood, rather than processed varieties. Also, check the package on fresh meats and poultry to see if salt water or saline has been added.
  • Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce or seasoning), low sodium, or no-salt-added canned vegetables.
  • Rinse sodium-containing canned foods, such as beans, tuna, and vegetables before eating.
  • Try light or reduced sodium condiments, add oil and vinegar to salads rather than bottled dressings, and use only a small amount of seasoning from flavoring packets instead of the entire packet.
  • Choose low sodium or no-salt-added nuts, seeds, and savory snacks (such as chips, crackers, and pretzels) – or have carrot or celery sticks instead.
  • Consume smaller portions of foods and beverages that are higher in sodium or consume them less often.
  • When eating out, ask that your meal to be prepared without salt and request that sauces and salad dressings be served “on the side,” then use less of them. You can also ask to see nutrition information (available in many chain restaurants), and then choose options that are lower in sodium.
Sodium is a nutrient to get less of.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 package (272g)
Amount Per Serving
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
  Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
  Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
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