About Sodium (Salt)

Updated:Jun 23,2014

Sodium Level on Food Nutrition LabelWhy is everyone so concerned about sodium these days? It’s an essential nutrient, but if you’re like most Americans you’re probably getting way more sodium than your body needs or that's good for your heart.

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden to your heart. Blood pressure rises with age, and eating less sodium now will help curb that rise and reduce your risk of developing other conditions associated with too much sodium, such as stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease.

Most people consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association.

Salty Misconception
The biggest contributor to our sodium consumption is not the salt shaker. Approximately 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to processed foods and restaurant foods. This makes it hard for people to choose foods with less sodium and to limit how much sodium they are eating because it is already added to their food before they buy it.

Salt
Common table salt is sodium chloride, which is approximately 40 percent sodium by weight. About 90 percent of Americans’ sodium intake comes from sodium chloride. Understanding just how much sodium is in table salt can help you take measures to control how much you’re taking in.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
Sodium Content on Nutrition Labels
You can find the amount of sodium in packaged food sold in stores by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams, abbreviated “mg.” The sodium content of packaged and prepared foods can vary widely. Compare the sodium content of similar products and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium you can find.

Check the labels to help you achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 mg a day.
Here are sodium-related terms you may find on food packages:
Sodium-Free Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium choloride  Nutrition Label with Sodium Level Highlighted
 
 
 
 
Very Low Sodium 35 milligrams or less per serving
 Low-Sodium 140 milligrams or less per serving
Reduced (or less) sodium At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
Light (for sodium-reduced products) If the food is "low calorie" and "low fat" and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
Light in sodium If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Food labels cannot claim a product is "healthy" if it has more than 480 mg of sodium per labeled serving (for individual foods) or more than 600 mg of sodium per labeled serving for meals/main dishes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

You can also read the ingredient list to identify sources of sodium in your food. Watch for the words:
  • “soda” (referring to sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda) and
  • “sodium” (including sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate [MSG] and sodium benzoate).
Once you start to recognize these terms, you’ll see that there is sodium in many foods – even those that don’t taste very salty.

Learn more:
Last Reviewed 4/29/2014

Nutrition Center

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