Sodium is a mineral that is essential for controlling your body’s fluid balance and helping with muscle function as well as sending nerve impulses. Our kidneys regulate sodium in our body.
According to the American Heart Association, when there is extra sodium in your blood-stream, it causes a move of water into your blood vessels, which increases the total amount of blood in your blood vessels. When there is more blood flowing through your blood vessels, your blood pressure increases. Over time, the high blood pressure can be damaging on blood vessel walls and can increase plaque that can block blood flow. This added pressure causes excess wear and tear on the heart.
Sodium and Salt
Sodium and salt are not the same thing, but they are often used interchangeably. Salt is composed of sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl), which are two different types of essential minerals. Table salt contains about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Although sodium and chloride are essential parts of our diet, current data suggest that we are consuming too much sodium. According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy eating patterns should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day for adults and children ages 14 years and older. Individuals with hypertension should reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day for greater blood pressure reduction. There is strong evidence that a reduction in sodium intake can help lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults.
Types of Salt
Salt comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, like rock salt, table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, grey salt, pink Himalayan salt, black salt, smoked salt, red salt, blue salt, and even flavored salts. Different salts typically contain about 40 percent sodium by weight, just like table salt.
Salts may differ in other mineral contents like magnesium, and individuals may prefer the taste, texture, or appearance of various salts.
Another difference in some salts, like sea salt and kosher salt, is their larger crystal size. Because of this larger size, you may consume less sodium per teaspoon and not have to use as much.
Table salt contains the necessary nutrient iodine, while others do not. This is important because a deficiency of iodine can cause an enlargement of the thyroid, which is also known as a goiter.
Research findings show that individual sodium intake comes mostly from hidden sources like processed or prepackaged foods. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, mixed dishes are the number one source of sodium intake. Mixed dishes could be pizza, soup, burgers, and sandwiches; meat, poultry, and seafood dishes; and rice, pasta, and grain dishes. It is not coming from the type of salt we are adding to our foods. So, keep that in mind next time you are trying to decide which salt to use at home.
No matter which salt you enjoy, it is important to remember to enjoy it in moderation.
Tips to Reduce Sodium Intake
Use the Nutrition Facts label to compare two different foods to see which item has a lower sodium content. You can also compare different brands of the same product to see which brand offers lower sodium.
Use the Nutrition Label
Very low sodium is 35 milligrams or less per serving. A low-sodium choice is less than 140 milligrams. It is important to check the serving size since eating more than the suggested serving size may no longer be low sodium. Reduced sodium means the food product has at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the alternative product.
Use the Nutrition Facts panel to compare the sodium content in foods to make healthier choices.
Eat at Home
According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 90 percent of Americans are consuming too much sodium, with men averaging 4,000 to 4,500 milligrams and women 3,000 milligrams per day. The majority of sodium consumed is from salt added during commercial food processing.
When you cook and eat at home, you can control what you are eating and how much salt goes into your food. Often when we go out to eat, we do not know how much salt has been added to the food. Most restaurant chains have the nutrition information listed online, so you can look up how much sodium is in the dishes.
No matter where you are, taste your food before adding salt!
Cook Food from Scratch
Quick and instant meals or side dishes are tempting due to their convenience; however, they are often very high in sodium. For example, instead of buying the instant garlic and olive oil brown rice, prepare your own with basic ingredients. This way you can control how much salt goes into the dish you are preparing.
Choose Fresh Fish, Chicken, and Other Meats
Instead of buying processed varieties such as deli meats, sausages, or chicken with added saline (salt water), choose fresh protein sources like fish, chicken, and other meats. Also, check the nutrition label to see if there is salt or seasoning added and if so, how much.
Use Herbs and Spices
Try using fresh herbs and spices, instead of using salt, when seasoning food. You can also use citrus like limes or lemons to add flavoring to dishes. There are many salt-free seasonings you can purchase from the grocery store that are creative ways to change flavor profiles.
Use caution when buying certain spice blends; they are often a hidden source of sodium. Lemon pepper is a good example of this—salt is often the first ingredient on the ingredient list.
Fresh versus Frozen versus Canned
Canned and frozen vegetables are great for the convenience factor. They are already processed and you can just add them to a recipe or warm them up for dinner! If you are using frozen vegetables, be cautious of any that come with sauces. Typically, the sauces are very high in sodium. If you are using canned vegetables, rinse your vegetables first in a colander. This actually reduces the sodium content by about 30 to 40 percent. If you are shopping for canned vegetables, look for those with no salt added or a low-sodium canned vegetable. These some-times have a blue label on them.
It is important to be aware of our food and how much sodium we are consuming. Be mindful of using salt and the foods you consume that may be sources of high sodium. Remember, everything in moderation.
Examine Your Choices
|Food||Sodium content of food||What I plan to buy/change||sodium content of new food|
|Instant Rice Mix||650 mg per serving||Plain instant brown rice flavored with spices||0mg|
American Heart Association. “How to Reduce Sodium.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 8th ed.
Prepared by Amber Denmon, extension educator. Reviewed by Lynn James, senior extension educator.