NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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How Much Sodium is Too Much?

How Much Sodium is Too Much?

We crave it. We love it. It's not surprising why: salt makes food taste delectable. It helps keep food fresh and safe from spoilage. We literally can't survive without sodium. Salt (a.k.a. sodium chloride) is our chief supply of this mineral, which helps our muscles contract, sends nerve impulses throughout our bodies and regulates fluid balance so we don't become dehydrated.

Although some sodium is good for the body, Americans typically consume about twice the amount considered healthy. The current recommendation for Americans, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, is to limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg or about one teaspoon of table salt per day. However, the American Heart Association and the CDC recommend lowering this recommendation to 1,500 mg or about one-half of a teaspoon of salt per day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Americans over the age of 2 consume 3,436 mg of sodium each day, 77 percent of which comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant/fast foods. Another 12 percent is found naturally in foods. The figure does not include sodium added during cooking (5 percent) or salt that is added at the table (6 percent).

Sodium, which is both an electrolyte and a mineral in the body, helps keep the water inside and outside the cell balanced. It is also important to how nerves and muscles work, and it helps with the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Eating too little sodium is not usually a problem for people because sodium is found naturally in many of the foods we eat. The minimum amount of sodium a person needs to replace losses is around 180 mg/day. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends a minimum of 500 mg per day for those over 18. The 1,500 mg per day recommended by the American Heart Association is reasonable to replace sweat losses and ensure nutrient adequacy.

For more than four decades, health authorities have urged us to consume less salt. The reasoning for that recommendation is that salt is roughly 40 percent sodium and too much of it can elevate blood pressure. In your body, sodium acts like a magnet for water, pulling fluid into your bloodstream. That excess liquid increases the pressure in your blood vessels and over time can damage their linings, potentially causing blood clots to form. Once those blood clots develop, they can eventually cause blockages that can lead to a heart attack or stroke

Studies have shown that the less sodium you consume the less your taste buds crave it. So, the first step in decreasing your desire for salty foods is to gradually decrease your daily sodium intake. Start by decreasing your intake by about 500 mg per day for one month, and then continue to decrease it by 500 mg at a time until you reach a daily sodium intake that is within the recommended range.

How much sodium is in the foods you eat? A tip to remember is that according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a food cannot claim to be “healthy” unless the sodium content does not exceed 480 mg per serving. For example, if a can has two servings and a serving is ½ cup, that ½ cup must not exceed 480 mg of sodium.  Some common foods and the amount of sodium they contain are:

1 large dill pickle - 1,736 mg

½ cup chicken chow mein -1, 054

1 cup canned soup - 939 mg

10 twists of snack pretzels - 814 mg

3 slices bacon - 554 mg

1 cup microwave popcorn - 296 mg

1 low-fat microwavable dinner, - 465 mg


            When looking for tips to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, remember to:  


  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel found on the food label. Check the “% Daily Value” per serving for sodium. Try to select foods that provide 5 percent or less of sodium per serving.
  • Try salt-free products, herbs, or spices to add flavor to food without increasing sodium content.
  • Look for these words on food labels: “no salt added,” “reduced salt,” or “low or reduced sodium.”
  • Use fresh meats rather than cured or processed meats.
  • Cut back on instant flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which have added salt.
  • Eat less restaurant or fast foods.
  • Reduce use of convenience type foods.
  • Remember that seasonings with names that end in “salt” like garlic salt and seasoning salt are high in sodium.
  • Combination spices such as lemon pepper may contain sodium. Read the ingredient list to see if salt has been added.
  • Limit the use of table salt. Try these suggestions:
    • Don’t add salt to food or water while you are cooking.
    • Taste a food before you add salt.
    • Try one shake of the salt shaker rather than the number you are accustomed to shaking.
    • Add white rice to your salt shaker to slow the flow of salt.
    • Remove the shaker from the table.


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