The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
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 United States 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.
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, 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
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|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
- 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.
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated March 3, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2013.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: . Accessed March 13, 2013.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated March 5, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2013.
Reduce salt and sodium in your diet. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Accessed March 13, 2013.
Salt. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Updated December 14, 2012. Accessed March 13, 2013.
Salt and sodium. 10 tips to help you cut back. US Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: . Accessed March 13, 2013.
Sodium. Health Vitamins Guide website. Available at: . Accessed March 13, 2013.
Sodium (salt or sodium chloride). American Heart Association website. Available at: . Updated March 5, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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