How Much Sodium Are You Eating?

Although some sodium is good for the body, Americans typically consume about twice the amount considered healthy. Learn how to reduce sodium intake through food choices.

Wanda M. Koszewski, Extension Nutrition Specialist

Our bodies need sodium to work, but usually we get more sodium than we need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Americans over the age of 2 consume 3,436 mg of sodium each day, 77 percent of which comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant/fast foods. Another 12 percent is found naturally in foods. The figure does not include sodium added during cooking (5 percent) or salt that is added at the table (6 percent). The current recommendation for Americans, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, is to limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg or about one teaspoon of table salt per day. However, the American Heart Association and the CDC recommend lowering this recommendation to 1,500 mg or about one-half of a teaspoon of salt per day.

Public health officials are worried about sodium because there is a strong link between it and high blood pressure, and uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease.

One in three Americans has high blood pressure and some do not even know it. It is estimated that 68 percent of Americans are sodium sensitive, which leads to high blood pressure. For these individuals and people who already have high blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The same recommendation applies to people who have a greater incidence of high blood pressure, including adults over 40 and African Americans.

Sodium, which is both an electrolyte and a mineral in the body, helps keep the water inside and outside the cell balanced. It is also important to how nerves and muscles work, and it helps with the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Eating too little sodium is not usually a problem for people because sodium is found naturally in many of the foods we eat. The minimum amount of sodium a person needs to replace losses is around 180 mg/day. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends a minimum of 500 mg per day for those over 18. The 1,500 mg per day recommended by the American Heart Association is reasonable to replace sweat losses and ensure nutrient adequacy.

Lowering Sodium in Your Diet

Studies have shown that the less sodium you consume the less your taste buds crave it. So, the first step in decreasing your desire for salty foods is to gradually decrease your daily sodium intake. Start by decreasing your intake by about 500 mg per day for one month, and then continue to decrease it by 500 mg at a time until you reach a daily sodium intake that is within the recommended range.

How Much Sodium Is in the Foods You Eat?

Table I lists the amount of sodium in many commonly eaten foods. Foods with the highest amount of sodium are listed towards the top of the list; foods with the least amount of sodium are listed towards the bottom. To decrease your sodium intake, choose food that appear toward the bottom of the list.

A tip to remember is that according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a food cannot claim to be “healthy” unless the sodium content does not exceed 480 mg per serving. For example, if a can has two servings and a serving is ½ cup, that ½ cup must not exceed 480 mg of sodium.

Table I. Amount of sodium present in commonly eaten foods.

Food Amount Amount
Table salt 1 tsp 2,358 mg
Dill pickle 1 large 1,736 mg
Canned chicken-a-la-king 1 cup 1,371 mg
Baking soda 1 tsp 1,259 mg
Chicken chow mein 1 cup 1,054 mg
Chili con carne 1 cup 1,043 mg
Box meal with hamburger 1 serving 982 mg
Canned soup 1 cup 939 mg
Sauerkraut 1 cup 939 mg
Canned spaghetti and meatballs 1 cup 925 mg
Prepared potato salad 1 cup 925 mg
Chicken pot pie 1 small frozen 889 mg
Snack pretzel 10 twists 814 mg
Cheese enchilada 1 each 784 mg
Box meals 1 serving 780 mg
Pepperoni pizza 1 slice 685 mg
Tomato juice 1 cup 654 mg
Grape-nuts cereal 1 cup 629 mg
Bouillon cube 1 each 611 mg
Canned vegetables 1 cup 562 mg
Frozen waffles 4” diameter 562 mg
Bacon 3 slices 554 mg
Rice-a-Roni® 1 cup 545 mg
Package bread stuffing ½ cup 543 mg
Coleslaw-prepared with salad dressing 1 cup 521 mg
Hot dog 1 each 504 mg
Cornbread from a mix 2” square 467 mg
Low-fat microwavable dinner 1 package 465 mg
Sardines 1 small can 465 mg
Peanuts roasted and salted 1 cup 461 mg
White sauce in a jar ½ cup 442 mg
Parmesan cheese 1 oz. 433 mg
Fruit pie 1 slice from 9” pie 399 mg
Pudding made from mix 1 cup 399 mg
Cottage cheese ½ cup 373 mg
Luncheon meat 1 oz 369 mg
Muffin 1 medium 356 mg
Raisin bran cereal 1 cup 342 mg
Ham, cured deli style 1 oz 341 mg
Bologna 1 oz 330 mg
Pork sausage links and patties 2 links or 2 patties 310 mg
Tuna, canned in oil or water 3 ½ oz can 301 m
Microwave popcorn 1 cup 296 mg
Doughnut, glazed 1 large 290 mg
Oatmeal 1 cup 283 mg
Pancake 6” diameter 278 mg
Buttermilk ½ cup 257 mg
French fries 1 medium serving 235 mg
Cake with frosting 2” piece 220 mg
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 220 mg
Ready eat dry cereal ¾ cup 186 mg
Potato chips 15 chips 181 mg
Cheddar cheese 1 oz 176 mg
Yogurt 1 cup 172 mg
Catsup 5 each 161 mg
Saltine crackers 1 Tbsp 167 mg
Salad dressing 1 Tbsp 140 mg
Cookies 2 medium 133 mg
Beef 1 oz 113 mg
Milk 1 cup 108 mg
Ice cream 1 cup 106 mg
Chicken 1 ounce 103 mg
Fresh fruit 1 medium < 100 mg
Fresh vegetables 1 cup < 100 mg
Egg 1 each < 100 mg
*Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.


Tips for Reducing Sodium in Your Diet

This publication has been peer reviewed.


Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

This publication has been peer reviewed.

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Index: Foods & Nutrition
Issued October 2009

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