Sodium Intake/High Sodium Food/Table & Sea Salt…!!!

sodium intake

Table of Contents

Your body needs sodium.  But most of us get too much. U.S. guidelines call for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day: about 1 teaspoon of table salt. And half of Americans should drop to 1,500 milligrams a day. You may be surprised by some of the foods that are high in sodium. It’s not just about the salt shaker on your table.

Why is everyone so concerned about sodium these days? It’s an essential nutrient, but if you’re like most Americans you’re probably getting way more sodium than your body needs or that’s good for your heart.

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden to your heart. Blood pressure rises with age, and eating less sodium now will help curb that rise and reduce your risk of developing other conditions associated with too much sodium, such as stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease.

Most people consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association.

Salty Misconception
The biggest contributor to our sodium consumption is not the salt shaker. Approximately 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to precessed foods and restaurant foods. This makes it hard for people to choose foods with less sodium and to limit how much sodium they are eating because it is already added to their food before they buy it.

Common table salt is sodium chloride, which is approximately 40 percent sodium by weight. About 90 percent of Americans’ sodium intake comes from sodium chloride. Understanding just how much sodium is in table salt can help you take measures to control how much you’re taking in.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium

  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Sodium Content on Nutrition Labels
You can find the amount of sodium in packaged food sold in stores by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams, abbreviated “mg.” The sodium content of packaged and prepared foods can vary widely. Compare the sodium content of similar products and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium you can find.

Check the labels to help you achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 mg a day.
Here are sodium-related terms you may find on food packages:


Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium choloride

 Nutrition Label with Sodium Level Highlighted

Very Low Sodium

35 milligrams or less per serving


140 milligrams or less per serving

Reduced (or less) sodium

At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level

Light (for sodium-reduced products)

If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Light in sodium

If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Food labels cannot claim a product is “healthy” if it has more than 480 mg of sodium per labeled serving (for individual foods) or more than 600 mg of sodium per labeled serving for meals/main dishes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Dangers of Sodium

Most Americans eat more than twice as much sodium than the American Heart Association recommends, consuming an average of more than 3,400 milligrams daily. That’s why the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is increasing awareness of sodium with the “Salty Six” – the top six sources of sodium in Americans’ diets.

Yet, if we cut the average daily sodium intake by more than half — to less than 1,500 milligrams per day, as the American Heart Association recommends — high blood pressure would decrease nearly 26 percent and more than $26 billion in healthcare costs would be saved over just a year. Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease by 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years.1

Some foods naturally contain some sodium. But more than 75 percent of sodium that Americans consume comes from processed fooods, Johnson said. The sodium content of packaged and prepared foods can vary widely. Be sure to read Nutrition facts labels on food items and compare the sodium content of similar products, and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium you can find in your store.

The Power of Potassium

On the other hand, potassium is a potent weapon because:

  • The more potassium we consume, the more sodium is excreted through urine and out of the body.

  • Potassium helps relax blood vessel walls, which helps lower blood pressure.

“Consuming more potassium is not an excuse to not be concerned about the amount of salt in your diet, but it can definitely help blunt the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium,” said Johnson.

 Potassium-rich foods include:

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Potatoes

  • Greens

  • Spinach

  • Mushrooms

  • Lima beans

  • Peas

  • Bananas

  • Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce (look for low-sodium versions)

  • Oranges and orange juice

  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melons

  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

  • Prunes and prune juice

  • Apricots and apricot juice

  • Raisins and dates

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk

  • Fat-free yogurt

  • Halibut

  • Tuna

  • Molasses

In fact, many of the natural sources of potassium — fruits, fat-free or low-fat dairy foods and fish — are part of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension  eating plan.

The recommended daily intake of potassium for an average adult is about 4,700 milligrams. But it’s only part of your total diet. Other dietary factors that may affect blood pressure include amount and type of dietary fat; cholesterol; protein and fiber; and calcium and magnesium.

Potassium also affects the balance of fluids in your body. So talk to your healthcare provider before taking over-the-counter potassium supplements (as we get older, our kidneys become less able to remove potassium from our blood). You should also consult with your doctor before trying salt substitutes, which contain potassium chloride that is harmful if you have certain medical conditions or take certain medications.

Salt’s effects on your body

This extra stored water raises your blood pressure and puts strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain.

The positive relation of sodium intake and blood pressure, first recognized a century ago, has been well established in ecological, epidemiological, and experimental human studies. Equally well established is the association of increasing blood pressure and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Indeed, the pharmacological capacity to reduce blood pressure has produced one of the great public health accomplishments of the 20th century. These two facts—the positive relation of blood pressure to strokes and heat attacks and the positive association of sodium intake to blood pressure—underlie the hypothesis that a reduction in sodium intake, by virtue of its hypotensive effect, might prevent strokes and heart attacks. Moreover, even if the effect on blood pressure were in the range of a 1- to 2-mm Hg decline in blood pressure for every 75- to 100-mmol difference in sodium intake, the impact of such a change, applied to the whole population, would be enormous. The problem with this appealing possibility is that a reduction in salt consumption of this magnitude has other—and sometimes adverse—health consequences. The question, therefore, is whether the beneficial hypotensive effects of sodium restriction will outweigh its hazards. Unfortunately, few data link sodium intake to health outcomes, and that which is available is inconsistent. Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.

Frozen Dinners

frozen foods

They’re quick. They’re easy. And they’re loaded with sodium. A 5-ounce frozen turkey and gravy dinner can pack 787 milligrams of sodium.

Tip: A “lighter” version may have less salt, but it’s no guarantee. Read the labels to be sure. It’s possible that “lighter” refers to fat only

Ready-to-Eat Cereals


Check out the nutrition facts label. Some brands of raisin bran have up to 250 milligrams of sodium per cup.

Tip: Puffed rice and puffed wheat are sodium free. Mix half of your favorite cereal with half of a sodium-free choice. Or look for companies that make low-sodium cereals

Vegetable Juices

Fresh vegetable juices on wooden table, on green background

Veggie drinks can help you get your 2 cups of vegetables a day, but they can be high in sodium. One cup of vegetable juice cocktail has 479 milligrams of sodium.

Tip: Many brands make a low-sodium version of vegetable juice.

Canned Vegetables

caned vegitables

While a handy substitute for fresh, canned veggies often have preservatives or sauces and seasonings that add extra sodium. A cup of canned cream-style corn may have 730 milligrams of sodium.

 Tips: Rinse vegetables thoroughly, or buy canned ones labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium.” Or check the freezer section, where you may have more luck finding an unsalted choice.

Packaged Deli Meats

packed meat

One look at the sodium content in packaged meats should stop you in your tracks. Beef or pork dry salami (2 slices) can pack 362 milligrams of sodium.

Tip: Be a label reader. Different brands and different meats have differing amounts of sodium. Also, know that a “healthier” packaged meat may actually have more sodium than its higher-fat counterpart. Some brands have meats with 50% less sodium.


soup pictures

It’s a warm comfort food on a cold day, but soups are typically loaded with sodium. For instance, a cup of chicken noodle soup (canned) has much as 744 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: Look for reduced-sodium versions of your favorites. And always check the label. You might find that one brand’s “Healthy” version actually has less sodium than the “25% Less Sodium” variety.

Marinades and Flavorings

Notoriously high-sodium items include Teriyaki sauce (1 tablespoon) which can have 690 milligrams of sodium, and soy sauce (1 tablespoon), which may have up to 1,024 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: Even “lower-sodium” soy sauce can have a lot of sodium, so use sparingly. Go for vinegar and lemon juice to enhance flavor, since they naturally have less sodium. Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.

Spaghetti Sauce

Half a cup of spaghetti sauce may pack 554 milligrams of sodium, and that amount barely coats a helping of pasta.

Tip: Look for “no salt added” versions of your favorite pasta sauces.

Spicing It Up

Adding spices to an entrée can be an easy way to skip the salt shaker. Just make sure there’s no hidden sodium in your selection. For example, canned jalapeno peppers (1/4 cup, solids and liquids) have about 568 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: Go for the pepper in its natural form to ditch the sodium used in processing. Or use herbs and sodium-free spices instead.

Aw, Nuts!

Rethink those salty peanuts. An ounce of most dry-roasted, salted peanuts contains 192 milligrams of sodium. Similarly, the same size serving of dry-roasted, salted mixed nuts has about 190 milligrams.

Tips: For about the same amount of calories, an ounce of oil-roasted, salted peanuts rings in at only 76 milligrams of sodium. Or better yet, buy the unsalted variety, which are practically sodium-free.

Salty Snacks

These snack-time favorites pack a lot of salt. See how much sodium you’re getting in an average 1-ounce serving.

  • Potato chips:136 milligrams

  • Cheese puffs: 240 milligrams

  • Pretzels: 385 milligrams

Tip: Even “baked” or fat-free snacks can have the same amount of sodium or more, so check the label.

Pre-Packaged Products

Foods such as rice, potatoes, and pasta in their natural forms are naturally low in sodium. But if you get the convenient “all-in-one” box and add the flavor packet, you may end up eating more than half of your daily allowance of sodium in just one serving.

Tips: Skip the packaged rice, and choose a plain, fast-cooking variety; then add your own seasonings. Or microwave potatoes to serve with your choice of fixings.

Condiments Do Count

If you think those little extras you add to your food don’t count, think again.

  • Ketchup (1 tablespoon) = 167 milligrams

  • Sweet relish (1 tablespoon) = 122 milligrams

  • Capers (1 tablespoon) = 252 milligrams (drained)

Tip: Go for low-sodium or sodium-free condiments. Or get creative with your substitutions: Try cranberry relish or apple butter for a naturally lower sodium choice.

Watch the Serving Size

The sodium content listed on a nutritional label isn’t for the whole package. It’s just for one serving. So check the label for the serving size.

Food Label Claims

Here’s a cheat sheet:

  • Sodium-free: Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving

  • Very low-sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving

  • Low-sodium: Less than 140 milligrams per serving

  • Reduced sodium: Sodium level reduced by 25%

  • Unsalted, no salt added, or without added salt: Made without the salt that’s normally used, but still contains the sodium that’s a natural part of the food itself.

What’s in a Name?

When you’re scanning a food label, don’t just look for the word “salt.” Watch out for various forms of sodium or other names for the same thing:

  •  sodium alginate

  • sodium ascorbate

  • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

  • sodium benzoate

  • sodium caseinate

  • sodium chloride

  • sodium citrate

  • sodium hydroxide

  • sodium saccharin

  • sodium stearoyl lactylate

  • sodium sulfite

  • disodium phosphate

  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • trisodium phosphate

  • Na

Check Your Medicine Cabinet

Surprise! Some headache or heartburn medicines can contain sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. Read the ingredient list and warning statement to be sure.

Pitfalls When Eating Out

Restaurant soups are generally very high in sodium, as are appetizers with cheeses or meats. Casserole entrees and rice pilaf are also common pitfalls. Restaurant sauces often have a lot of sodium, so you may want to avoid items slathered in sauce. If you ask, most restaurants are willing to prepare your food without added salt, but that won’t necessarily make it low in sodium.

Better Menu Choices

Fish can be a lower-sodium choice at a restaurant, as long as you watch how it’s seasoned. Steamed vegetables (prepared without salt) are another smart choice. Also, try a salad with dressing on the side. Low-sodium dessert options include fruit, ice cream, sherbet, or angel food cake.

‘Dos’ When Dining Out

  • Ask how food is prepared.

  • Choose a restaurant where food is made to order, and keep your order simple.

  • Ask that your meal be prepared without any forms of sodium, and then add a dash of low-sodium seasoning you brought from home, or a squeeze of lemon or lime.

When You’re Eating Fast Food

Try these helpful tips:

  • Undress your food, but keep the veggies like lettuce and tomatoes: Skip the cheese, go easy on condiments, and don’t add salt.

  • Don’t supersize; order off the children’s menu for smaller portions.

  • Eat a low-sodium diet for the rest of the day.

  • Ask for a nutrition fact sheet at the restaurant (or find it online before you go) to help you make the best possible low-sodium choices.

Who Should Go Low-Sodium?

U.S. guidelines call for about half of Americans to limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less per day, including:

  • People ages 51 and older

  • African Americans

  • People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

The American Heart Association recommends getting less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Cutting back on salt can cut blood pressure in some people. It can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage in those who have high blood pressure.

Track Your Sodium

Don’t know how much sodium you’re getting every day? Keep a daily tally of the foods you eat and drink. Then calculate how much sodium is in each. The average American takes in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, well above the limits recommended for good health.

Sea Salt vs Table Salt

Sea salt has some benefits – but probably won’t do much to help you cut back on sodium.

Sea salt has boomed in popularity in restaurants and supermarket aisles. Many gourmet chefs say they prefer it over table salt for its coarse, crunchy texture and stronger flavor. Manufacturers are using it in potato chips and other snacks because it’s “all natural,” and less processed than table salt. And some health-conscious consumers choose it because it contains minerals like magnesium.

Each of the above-mentioned characteristics may set sea salt apart from table salt, but in one other very important respect there’s usually no difference between the two: sodium content.

How does the amount of sodium in sea salt compare to table salt?

Most sea salts and table salt contain about 40 percent sodium by weight. Unfortunately, many consumers haven’t gotten that message. In an April 2011 survey by the American Heart Association, 61 percent of respondents said they believed sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. Some varieties of sea salt may claim to have less sodium than table salt. You can check the Nutrition Facts label to compare how a given sea salt compares to table salt, which has about 575 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon.

“It’s very important for people to be aware that sea salt usually has as much sodium as table salt,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., an American Heart Association spokeswoman and the Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont.

“One of the keys to maintaining a heart-healthy diet is to control your sodium intake,” she said. “If you’re consuming more sea salt than you otherwise would because you think it has less sodium, then you may be placing yourself at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease.”

What’s the difference between the way sea salt and table salt are made?

Sea salt is obtained directly through the evaporation of seawater. It is usually not processed, or undergoes minimal processing, and therefore retains trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and other nutrients.

Table salt, on the other hand, is mined from salt deposits and then processed to give it a fine texture so it’s easier to mix and use in recipes. Processing strips table salt of any minerals it may have contained, and additives are also usually added to prevent clumping or caking.

While these attributes may make sea salt more attractive from a marketing standpoint, Johnson says there are no real health advantages of most sea salts.

“The minute amounts of trace minerals found in sea salt are easily obtained from other healthy foods,” Johnson said. “Sea salt also generally contains less iodine than table salt. Iodine has been added to table salt since the 1920s to prevent the iodine-deficiency disease goiter.”

The next time you find yourself choosing between sea salt and table salt, remember that it’s probably mostly a matter of letting your taste buds decide.  But whichever option you choose, keep in mind that both usually contain the same amount of sodium.

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