Sodium, one of the components of salt, is a mineral that is found in every cell of the body, with greatest concentrations in the fluid outside and in between cells. Sodium regulates the water content inside and outside our cells.
- Regulation of fluid balance
- Maintenance of acid-base balance
- Carbon dioxide transport
- Muscle contraction
- Nerve impulse transmission
It is recommended that people get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Certain adults should reduce intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This includes:
- Adults aged 51 years and older
- African Americans
- People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease
The Institue of Medicine has set Adequate Intake (AI) levels for sodium. This AI is the recommended daily average intake for healthy and moderately active people.
Adequate Intake (AI)
|Children: 1-3 years||1,000 mg|
|Children: 4-8 years||1,200 mg|
|Children: 9-18 years||1,500 mg|
|Adults: 19-50 years||1,500 mg|
|Adults 51-70 years||1,300 mg|
|Adults 71 years and older||1,200 mg|
Too Little Sodium
Since the typical American diet is rich in sodium, deficiencies are uncommon.
A sodium deficiency may accompany extreme body fluid loss, such as in the case of starvation, profuse sweating, or excess vomiting or diarrhea.
Too Much Sodium
High sodium intakes have been correlated with elevated blood pressure and edema (cell and tissue swelling caused by excess water accumulation). Increasing dietary salt intake might also raise the risk of developing kidney stones.
Major Food Sources
Table salt is the major source of dietary sodium—about 1/3 to 1/2 of the sodium we consume is added during cooking or at the table. Fast foods and commercially processed foods—canned, frozen, bagged, boxed, or instant—also add a significant amount of sodium to the typical American diet. These include:
- Beef broth
- Commercial soups
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Salted snack foods
- Sandwich meats
- Tomato-based products
Sodium occurs naturally in:
- Milk products
- Soft water
Other sources of sodium in the diet:
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium nitrate and nitrate
- Sodium propionate
- Sodium sulfite
- Soy sauce
Reading Food Labels
All food products contain a Nutrition Facts label, which states a food's sodium content. The following terms are also used on food packaging:
|Food Label Term||Meaning|
|Sodium free||Less than 5 mg/serving|
|Very low sodium||35 mg or less/serving|
|Low sodium||145 mg or less/serving|
|Reduced sodium||25% reduction in sodium content from original product|
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing|
Tips for Lowering Your Sodium Intake
- Read the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in the foods you are buying.
- Gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. Your taste buds will adjust to less salt.
- Taste your food before you salt it; it may not need the salt.
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking, such as garlic, oregano, lemon or lime juice, and other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
- Opt for fresh foods instead of processed ones. For example, select fresh or plain frozen vegetables and meats instead of those canned with salt.
- Look for low sodium or reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of such foods as: canned vegetables; vegetable juices; dried soup mixes; bouillon; condiments (catsup, soy sauce); snack foods (chips, nuts, pretzels); crackers and bakery products; canned soups; butter, margarine; cheeses; canned tuna; and processed meats.
- Cook and eat at home! Adjust your recipes to gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. If some of the ingredients already contain salt, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, or cheese, you do not need to add more salt.
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt or with less salt than the package calls for. Flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes generally already contain added salt.
- Limit your use of condiments such as soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
- When dining out, order a low-salt meal or ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
- Also when dining out, ask for sauces and dressings to be served on the side, so that you can control the amount that you add.
American Dietetic Association
Dietitians of Canada
Sodium (salt or sodium chloride). American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sodium-Salt-or-Sodium-Chloride_UCM_303290_Article.jsp. Updated February 16, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2011
DynaMed Editorial Team. Nephrolithiasis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated February 22, 2011. Accessed March 23, 2011.
Sodium. Health Vitamins Guide website. Available at: http://www.healthvitaminsguide.com/minerals/sodium.htm. Accessed March 22, 2011.
United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office; December 2010.
Last reviewed March 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Last updated Updated: 6/24/2011
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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