Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. Your body needs sodium for normal muscle and nerve functions. It also helps keep body fluids in balance. Most table salts are made from sodium chloride. So, salt used when preparing or flavoring foods usually contains sodium. And, healthcare providers often use the words sodium and salt interchangeably.
Though you need some sodium, when it comes to this mineral, too much may be bad for your health. Eating high-sodium foods regularly can cause your body to retain excess water. And, because of this extra body water, your organs have to work harder. This increases your risk for high blood pressure, which can harm your heart and kidney function.
An Adequate Intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day has been established for adults, but most people consume more than that amount. The typical American diet contains over 3,400 milligrams of sodium. Most of that sodium comes from a combination of eating out and packaged convenience foods. Adding more salt at the table also adds to high intakes of sodium — one teaspoon of salt has 2,300 milligrams of sodium. If you are 14 years of age or older and eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, the current health recommendation is to cut back on your daily intake of sodium.
Some foods naturally contain sodium. Others have added salt — and foods with added salt usually contain higher amounts of sodium, so check the Nutrition Facts label and look for options that are lowest in sodium.
Foods that Contribute the Most Salt
Only a small number of foods account for the majority of sodium consumed in the United States, and examples include:
Most restaurant foods are high in sodium. This includes both fast food chains and fine dining options. Before you go out to eat, check to see if the restaurant has nutrition information posted on their website. Or, at the restaurant, ask your server about lower salt options. Plus, ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. That way you can use less of those high salt items.
The best way to learn how much sodium is in particular foods is by reading the Nutrition Facts label:
No. Even if you take medicine for high blood pressure, you need to watch how much sodium you eat. Need help developing a low-sodium eating plan? Contact a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized meal plan that works for you.