Sodium: How to tame your salt habit now
Sodium: How to tame your salt habit now
You've been trying to eat less sodium — just a pinch of table salt on your baked potato and a dash on your scrambled eggs. But a pinch here and a dash there can quickly add up to unhealthy levels of sodium. Consider that just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. And it's not just table salt you have to worry about. Many processed and prepared foods already contain lots of sodium — and it's these foods that contribute the most sodium to your diet.
If you're like many people, you're getting far more sodium than is recommended, and that could lead to serious health problems. See how sodium sneaks into your diet and ways you can shake the habit.
Sodium: Essential in small amounts
Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:
Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your sodium levels are low, your kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When sodium levels are high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.
But if for some reason your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to accumulate in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases. Increased blood volume makes your heart work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels, which increases pressure in your arteries. Such diseases as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for your kidneys to keep sodium levels balanced.
Some people's bodies are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than are others. If you're sodium sensitive, you retain sodium more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If this becomes chronic, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
Sodium: How much do you need?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you're sensitive to the effects of sodium. If you aren't sure how much sodium your diet should include, talk to your doctor.
Sodium: Main dietary sources
The average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day — much more than recommended. To help keep your sodium consumption in check, you need to know where the sodium comes from. Here are the main sources of sodium in a typical diet:
Sodium: Be a savvy shopper
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a typical 4-inch (10-centimeter) oat-bran bagel has about 532 mg of sodium, and even a slice of whole-wheat bread contains 132 mg of sodium.
So how can you tell which foods are high in sodium? Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as:
Know your labels
Many food packages include sodium-related terms. Here's what they mean:
But watch out — foods labeled "reduced sodium" or "light in sodium" may still contain a lot of salt. For example, regular canned chicken noodle soup contains about 1,100 mg of sodium per cup, so a product with 25 percent less sodium still has a whopping 820 mg of sodium per cup. The same holds true for "lite" or "light in sodium" varieties.
Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. And check the Nutrition Facts label closely for the serving size — and consider how many servings you actually eat.
Sodium: More tips to cut back
Virtually all Americans can benefit from reducing the sodium in their diet. Here are more ways you can cut back on sodium:
Sodium: Cut back gradually
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the salt shaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.
Last Updated: 2011-03-31
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