Getting to the Heart of a Healthful Diet: Sodium
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Sodium intake can raise blood pressure in people predisposed to having
Salt sensitivity is difficult to accurately diagnose. Therefore, appropriate sodium recommendations are a subject of great debate among nutrition experts. Some believe that all people should limit their sodium intake to either treat or prevent hypertension regardless of their present blood pressure level. Others, though, advise that only people with hypertension or those who are believed to be salt sensitive need to limit sodium in their diets.
Nutrition researchers are still trying to tease out the exact role of sodium in hypertension. A major study in this area is
Sodium is found in many foods. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you.
Major Food Sources
Table salt (sodium chloride; NaCl) 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—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
Other sources of sodium in the diet:
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium nitrate and nitrite
- Sodium propionate
- Sodium sulfite
- Soy sauce
Reading Food Labels
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|
Tips For Lowering Your Sodium Intake
- 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.
- 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 such foods as:
- Canned vegetables
- Vegetable juices
- Dried soup mixes
- Condiments (ketchup, soy sauce)
- Snack foods (chips, nuts, pretzels)
- Bakery products
- Canned soups
- Butter and margarine
- Canned tuna
- Processed meats
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
- 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.
- Limit your use of condiments such as soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
American Dietetic Association
The Nutrition Source
Harvard School of Public Health
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
American Heart Association. Reading food labels. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=334. Updated March 18, 2009. Accessed June 14, 2010.
DynaMed Editorial Team. Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated June 14, 2010. Accessed June 14, 2010.
Office of Technology Management at Chicago. Treatment method for salt-sensitive hypertension. Office of Technology Management at Chicago website. Available at: http://www.otm.uic.edu/node/75. Updated 2008. Accessed June 14, 2010.
Last reviewed June 2010 by
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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