Sodium (Salt)

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Sodium plays a vital role in the body. It can affect fluids and blood pressure. Most people consume more sodium than is needed which can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

  • When too much sodium is eaten, more water has to stay in the body to help dilute the sodium out into the bloodstream.  This lowers the kidney’s ability to excrete sodium and water, causing your blood vessels to become “waterlogged.”
  • When this happens, more pressure is needed to pump blood through the body.  The blood vessels constrict (become smaller), which increases blood pressure.

How much should I eat?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Most adults consume more than 3,400 mg each day.

One teaspoon of salt contains 2,200 mg of sodium. Salt added at the dinner table is important to watch, but the biggest sodium contributor in the American diet is processed foods and restaurant meals.

Product Label Reading Tips

Look to the front of the label for any special health claims about the product.

  • Sodium free: less than 5 mg per serving
  • Very low sodium: less than 35 mg per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less
  • Reduced or less sodium: 25% less sodium than the regular version

Nutrition Fact Label

  • Serving Size: Here’s where you find out what equals a serving and how many servings are in a box.
  • Sodium: This is where you will find out how many milligrams of sodium are in the product.  Try to look for foods with less than 50% of the daily value per serving.
  • Percent Daily Value: Tells if the nutrients in a certain food add a lot or a little to your total daily diet.  There is 65 mg of sodium in this cereal with milk. This is 3% of your total daily value, which means you have 97% left in the foods you eat that day.

Brush up on your skills with these Nutrition Fact Label reading tips.

Tips to Reduce Salt Intake

  • Choose whole foods when preparing meals at home or eating out. The less processed, the less sodium. 
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables. When selecting canned products look for low-sodium or no sodium options. Rinse canned foods to remove some sodium.
  • Avoid foods prepared in brine, such as pickles and olives.
  • Avoid smoked meats (ham, bologna, pastrami, & corned beef).
  • Use package labels to compare the sodium content of similar products.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
  • Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, & cereal mixes, which have added salt.
  • Avoid canned soups or choose the lower sodium version.
  • See the section on Healthy Meals at Home for more ideas.
  • Be patient.  Salt is an acquired taste.  Once you begin to cut back on sodium, you’ll find you miss it less.

Questions to Ask

  • Do I salt food at the dinner table before I even taste it?
  • Do I try other added flavors besides salt?
  • Do I read the label for the sodium content in the food?

Seasoning with Salt

  • Use lemon juice, vinegar, and salt-free herbs and spices such as garlic, pepper, onion, or Mrs. Dash to flavor your food instead of sauces and salt.

Dining Out Tips

  • Chain restaurants often put nutrition information online. Check ahead to find the lower sodium options.
  • Ask how foods are made.
  • Ask that your foods are made without added salt.
  • Limit adding mustard, ketchup, pickles, and sauces with salt-containing ingredients to small amounts.
  • Ask for sauce & salad dressings on the side and use only half of it.
  • Taste food before adding salt.
  • Watch for words on the menu that mean high sodium content such as pickled or cured.
  • Reduce your portion size. Less food means less sodium. For example, ask the server to put half of your meal in a take-out container before it comes to your table, or split an entrée with someone else.
  • Ask your favorite restaurants, stores, and foods manufacturers to offer more low sodium options.

Sources: USDA Infant Feeding & Nutrition – A Guide for Use in WIC, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

This post was last updated on November 7th, 2022 at 5:47 PM

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