Americans consume far too much sodium — about 3,500 milligrams daily. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg a day and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
Because the average American eats so much excess sodium, even cutting back by 1,000 milligrams a day can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health.
Keep in mind that more than 70% of the sodium Americans eat comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods — not the salt shaker.
Most of us are probably underestimating how much sodium we eat. Moderating sodium in our daily diet is part of following an overall healthy eating pattern.
How can I tell how much sodium I’m eating?
Look at the Nutrition Facts label on the side or back of a food package to find the amount of sodium in just one serving of the food you eat, listed in milligrams. The top of the Nutrition Facts label lists the number of servings in the package as well as the nutritional content of the food per serving.
A list of all ingredients in the food is found separately on the package. Check this list for words like “sodium,” “salt” and “soda.” The total sodium shown on the Nutrition Facts label includes the sodium from salt, plus the sodium from any other sodium-containing ingredient in the product. For example, this includes preservative ingredients such as sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium benzoate.
Remember to take note of the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label. If your portion size equals two servings of a product, then you’re actually eating twice the sodium listed.
Sodium-related terms you may see on food packages:
- Salt/sodium-free — Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Very low sodium — 35 milligrams or less per serving
- Low sodium —140 milligrams or less per serving
- Reduced sodium — At least 25% less sodium per serving than the item’s usual sodium level
- Light in sodium or lightly salted — At least 50% less sodium than the regular product
- No salt added or unsalted — No salt is added during processing, but these products may not be salt/sodium-free unless stated
Remember: Sodium levels vary in the same foods depending on the brand or restaurant.
Keeping a daily tally of how much sodium you consume can guide you to better choices. Sometimes a small adjustment can bring big results for your health.
Can you eat too little sodium?
It’s unlikely that you’re not getting enough sodium in your diet. And there’s no reliable evidence that eating less than 1,500 mg per day of sodium is a risk for the general population.
The body needs only a small amount of sodium (less than 500 mg per day) to function properly. That’s a mere smidgen — the amount in less than 1/4 teaspoon. Very few people come close to eating less than that amount. Plus, healthy kidneys are great at retaining the sodium that your body needs.
The guideline to reduce to 1,500 mg of sodium daily may not apply to people who lose big amounts of sodium in sweat, like competitive athletes, and workers exposed to major heat stress, such as foundry workers and firefighters, or to those directed otherwise by their health care team. There is some evidence that it could be harmful to certain patients with congestive heart failure.
If you have medical conditions or other special dietary needs or restrictions, follow the advice of a qualified health care professional.