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Getting to the Heart of a Healthful Diet: Sodium
Too much sodium can raise the risk of high blood pressure. This is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Some people may be more sensitive to salt than others, but most Americans are still getting more sodium than they need. Eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure. It can also lower the risk of worsening health problems in people with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study found that a diet rich in fruits, veggies, 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 that blood pressure was lowered even more 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. It is not always easy to know which ones have it.
Major Food Sources
Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a 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 processed foods also add a lot of sodium to the American diet. It can be found in things like:
- Beef broth
- Commercial soups
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Salted snack foods
- Sandwich meats
- Tomato-based products
Sodium is also naturally in:
- Milk products
- Soft water
Reading Food Labels
All food products have a Nutrition Facts label. It will list a food's sodium content. These terms are also used on food packaging:
|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|
|Light||Sodium is reduced by at least 50% per serving|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
Tips For Lowering Sodium Intake
Some tips to lower sodium intake are:
- Read nutrition labels to find out how much sodium foods contain.
- Slowly cut down on salt. Most people will get used to the change in taste.
- Do not add salt from the salt shaker at the table. Or add less salt. People should taste food before putting salt on it. It may not be needed.
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking, such as garlic, oregano, onion, lemon or lime juice, or other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
- Choose fresh foods instead of processed foods. For example, select fresh or plain frozen veggies and meats instead of those canned with salt.
- Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt versions of foods.
- Cook and eat at home. Adjust recipes to slowly cut down on salt. If some of the ingredients contain salt, do not add more to the recipe.
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
- Order low-salt meals when dining out. Or, as the chef not to use salt.
- Limit condiments such as soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
It takes time to make changes to a person's diet. Go slowly and give taste buds time to adjust.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/dash-diet. Accessed August 31, 2020.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines. Accessed August 31, 2020.
Get the scoop on sodium and salt. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Sodium-Salt-or-Sodium-Chloride%5FUCM%5F303290%5FArticle.jsp#.WLCdyU2QzIU Accessed August 31, 2020.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hypertension. Accessed August 31, 2020.
Most Americans should consume less sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm. Accessed August 31, 2020.
Sodium. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/sodium. Accessed August 31, 2020.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
- Review Date: 03/2020
- Update Date: 08/31/2020