Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Sodium

Updated:Nov 11,2014

Sodium FAQs

How much sodium should I have each day?
The American Heart Association recommends that Americans consume less than 1,500 mg/day sodium, which is the level with the greatest effect on blood pressure. The recommendation for less than 1500 mg/day does not apply to people who lose large amounts of sodium in sweat, such as competitive athletes and workers exposed to extreme heat stress (for example, foundry workers and fire fighters), or to those directed otherwise by their healthcare provider.

The sodium recommendation is one component in a suite of cardiovascular measurements developed by the American Heart Association to determine if Americans are improving their cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020.

Why did the American Heart Association change its sodium recommendations?
Previously, the American Heart Association sodium recommendations set the limit at no more than 2,300 mg/day for the general population and 1,500 mg/day for hypertensive individuals, blacks, and middle-aged and older adults. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data in 2009 showing that nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population is made up of the groups for whom 1,500 mg a day sodium is recommended. Ninety percent of Americans adults are expected to develop high blood pressure in their lifetimes, and eating too much sodium is strongly linked to the development of high blood pressure. For these reasons and because the potential public health benefits of sodium reduction are significant and extend to all Americans, the American Heart Association in 2010 chose to recommend that Americans eat less than 1,500 mg/day sodium as part of the definition of ideal cardiovascular health.

What would the health impact be of lowering sodium consumption to less than 1,500 mg per day for most Americans?
One estimate suggested that if the U.S. population moved to an average intake of 1,500 mg/day sodium from its current level, it could result in a 25.6% overall decrease in blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings. Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce deaths from CVD by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years.

How much sodium is in salt?
Table salt is a combination of two minerals – sodium and chloride. By weight, table salt is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride. About 90% of Americans’ sodium intake comes from sodium chloride. Learn all about the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:

What are the common sources of sodium?
Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods or is added to foods during the manufacturing process, or both. Some foods with naturally-occurring sodium include celery, beets, and milk. Processed foods that often have added sodium include salted snacks, canned soups, luncheon meats, and frozen dinners. About 12% of the sodium we eat is from what occurs naturally in foods, while more than 75% comes from sodium added to foods during processing. The remaining amount comes from salt we add during food preparation or at the table.

You can find the amount of sodium in your food by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams, abbreviated “mg.” Check the ingredient list for the words soda (referring to sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda), salt, and sodium. Besides than salt, there are other forms of sodium that show up in our food, such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). These sodium-containing ingredients are used in food for reasons such as preservation, enhancement of color, and stabilization (that is, to give food a firmer texture). Keep in mind that the sodium content of packaged and prepared foods can vary widely. Use the Nutrition Facts label to compare the sodium content of similar products and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium you can find in your store.

Check out the AHA’s Salty Six infographic to learn about the top six sources of sodium in Americans’ diets.

Also, some over-the-counter and prescription drugs contain high amounts of sodium. Carefully read the labels on all over-the-counter drugs. Look at the ingredient list and warning statement to see if the product has sodium. A statement of sodium content must be on labels of antacids that have 5 mg or more per dosage unit (tablet, teaspoon, etc.). For prescription drugs, you probably can’t tell by looking at a bottle whether it contains sodium. If you have high blood pressure, ask your physician or pharmacist about the sodium content of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some companies are now producing lower-sodium medications. If in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist if the drug is a good choice for you.

Where does most of the sodium we consume in our food come from?
The biggest contributor to our sodium consumption is not the salt shaker. More than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to processed foods. Restaurant foods are another source of sodium. 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.

Last Reviewed 05/2014


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