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5 Questions About Sodium

Here are five questions to help you learn more about sodium.

1. What’s the difference between sodium and salt?

Sodium is a mineral that makes up salt. The table salt that you use is 40 percent sodium (Na) and 60 percent chloride (Cl). One teaspoon of salt equals 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium. \

On average, Americans consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day. The daily value for sodium is less than 2,300 mg per day.

2. Why do we need sodium? The mineral sodium is regulated by the kidneys to control the fluid balance in the body. Sodium also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function. Your body also needs the mineral to regulate blood volume.

3. Where does sodium come from? Sodium or “salt” often is found in processed foods. Manufactures add salt to preserve products and enhance flavor. Examples include pizza, cold cuts and cured meats, soups, cheese, seasonings and processed snacks.

4. What could happen if we eat too much sodium?

In some people, excess sodium consumption can have major impacts on health, including hypertension, kidney disease and/or fluid retention.

Hypertension refers to a consistently elevated force against the artery walls, and it occurs with narrowed blood vessels or if blood volume increased. Salt increases blood pressure by increasing blood volume.

Kidney disease refers to the uncontrolled high blood pressure that leads to narrowing and hardening to the lining of the small arteries that filter blood to the kidney. Through time, the kidneys cannot filter properly, which results in poor oxygen supply and cells begin to die.

Fluid retention can occur with high salt intake, which could cause the body to retain more water. The salt pulls water into the extracellular tissue of the muscle.

5. What are ways to reduce sodium intake?
Eating out:

  • Use less of sauces and gravies.
  • Skip foods that are breaded and fried.
  • Choose options that are steamed, baked, roasted or grilled.
  • Ask for sides of fresh fruits, vegetables or a side salad instead of fries.
  • Avoid using the salt shaker.
  • Limit foods such as cheese, pickles or bacon.


  • Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and/or vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor.
  • Drain and rinse canned beans and other vegetables. Canned vegetables have more sodium than fresh or frozen.
  • Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions to adapt to the taste. This works especially well for broths, soups and tomato-based pasta sauces.
  • Cook pasta, rice and hot cereal without salt.
  • Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sautéing to bring out natural flavors.

Try the DASH Diet

This diet is naturally low in sodium and naturally high in potassium, magnesium and calcium. These nutrients can be found in dairy products, nuts, seed, beans, fruits and vegetables.

Diets high in potassium, magnesium and calcium have many beneficial properties. They include relaxing the blood vessels, promoting sodium excretion and decreasing blood pressure.


Reference: American Heart Association, 2018


By: McKenzie Schaffer, NDSU Dietetic Intern

Filed under: fca newsletter

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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