A Grain of Salt

Updated:Jan 15,2015

a grain of saltTable salt is composed primarily of sodium (about 40 percent) and chlorine (about 60 percent). Sodium is an essential mineral your body needs to function properly. It helps your nerves and muscles work and balances the fluids in your body. The average American consumes almost 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day, which is much more than the body needs. 

Too Much Sodium

Excess dietary sodium is linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other diseases. Some people's bodies react more than others’ to an increase or decrease in sodium intake, leading to different effects on their blood pressure or the amount of water retention and bloating they experience. The American Heart Association recommends that most Americans consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

One teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. It’s good to stop adding salt onto your food at the table, but the salt shaker isn’t the primary way sodium finds its way into your dinner. Many packaged, pre-prepared, and restaurant foods are high in added sodium. It’s these foods that contribute the most sodium (more than 75 percent!) to your diet.

These foods include breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches. Other foods that tend to have high sodium levels include some condiments, pasta sauces, frozen dinners, rice mixes, , cheese, salad dressings and fast foods. When you get into the habit of checking nutrition labels, you’ll be surprised by all of the places sodium shows up!

Some foods like vegetables, dairy products and meat naturally contain small amounts sodium. Eating these foods likely gives you all the sodium your body needs.

Is sea salt better for you?

Most people would probably say yes. The truth is that table salt, kosher salt, and most sea salts all contain about 40% sodium by weight.

Some varieties of sea salt may claim to have less sodium than table salt. Check the Nutrition Facts label to compare how a given sea salt compares to table salt, which has about 575 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon.

Kosher salt and some sea salts may have larger crystal sizes than table salt so they may have less sodium by volume (e.g., by teaspoon or tablespoon).

A teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium, but a teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt can have less sodium because fewer crystals fit into the spoon. It is still smart to limit the amount of salt you are adding to your food, whether it’s table salt, sea salt, or kosher salt.

To learn more about sodium and health and find more tips to cut your sodium intake, visit heart.org/sodium.

Article copyright © 2015 American Heart Association. This recipe/article is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.


Last reviewed 1/2015