What’s the Shake on Sodium Intake?

Posted: June 1, 2016

Studies show that the average American’s sodium intake is over double the healthy recommended amount. Let’s talk about why this can be harmful, and ways we can lower sodium intake.
salt shaker on the side

salt shaker on the side

Studies show that the average American’s sodium intake is over double the healthy recommended amount. Let’s talk about why this can be harmful, and ways we can lower sodium intake.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for the human body. We need sodium to help balance the body’s internal fluids, assist with normal muscles function, and help the heart beat properly. The problem is most people consume much more sodium than their body needs. The main issue with high sodium intake is that it can contribute to high blood pressure (Hypertension). Excessive sodium consumption makes the heart have to pump harder, and over time causes it to wear out and stop working as efficiently. Long term high blood pressure often leads to heart disease, as well as other health issues like stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) <140/90 mmHg, or pre-hypertension which is between 120/80 mmHg-139/89 mmHg, 1500 mg of sodium per day is still recommended.

Where is sodium found? Many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, however, the main dietary sources of sodium are: 75% from eating out, and 25% from processed foods and adding salt in cooking or at the table. Sodium is often used to preserve foods so that they last longer without spoiling, but most is added in foods for flavor. Most packaged goods, like crackers, cereal, deli meats, cheeses, and canned goods are high in sodium. Condiments and sauces are also extraordinarily high in sodium. In addition, most fast food and restaurant foods are extremely high in sodium.

Ways to reduce Sodium in Your Diet

  1. Spice it up! Experiment with different herbs and spices, instead of using salt when cooking. Herbs and spices can provide a variety of flavors that can enhance the experience of any meal, as well as provide a number of additional health benefits.
  2. Get rid of the salt shaker. The easiest way to decrease sodium intake is to stop adding extra salt to food. It may take a little time to get your taste buds adjusted, but try to focus on enjoying the natural flavors each individual ingredient food has to offer. Trade in the salt shaker for salt-free seasoning mixes: there are also a number of salt free seasoning mixes to make the transition easier. Beware: Avoid salt substitutes made with potassium chloride without first checking with your doctor.
  3. Read that food label! Flip that can or box over and check out the sodium content in the Nutrition Facts. Different brands of the same item may have drastically different sodium levels. Look at the percent Daily Value (%DV). Five percent or below is a food that is low in sodium, and 20% or above is high. Try to stick with foods that have less than 140mg per serving. Choose low sodium options when available, and look for words labeled “low sodium,” “sodium free,” or “no-added-salt.”
  4. Limit processed foods – Choose fresh whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meat!
    • Limit salty snacks such as crackers and pretzel and chips which tend to be of low nutritional value but very high in sodium.
    • Avoid prepackaged food items, frozen entrees, or foods packaged with sauce or seasoning mixes included.
    • Canned fruits and vegetables are great option. Be sure to pick options canned in water or 100% fruit juice, not salt or sugary syrup. Rinsing canned contents off with water before using lowers the sodium.

Written by Alisha Allenbach R.D. (former dietetic intern for Penn State Extension Montgomery County)

Contact Information

Kathy DiGuiseppe
  • Nutrition Links Regional Coordinator, Food, Families, & Health
Phone: 610-489-4315