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
- Lowering Sodium in Your Diet
- How Much Sodium Is in the Foods You Eat?
- Tips for Reducing Sodium in Your Diet
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.
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.
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 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.|
- Read the Nutrition Facts panel found on the food label. Check the “% Daily Value” per serving for sodium. Try to select foods that provide 5 percent or less of sodium per serving.
- Try salt-free products, herbs, or spices to add flavor to food without increasing sodium content.
- Look for these words on food labels: “no salt added,” “reduced salt,” or “low or reduced sodium.”
- Use fresh meats rather than cured or processed meats.
- Cut back on instant flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which have added salt.
- Eat less restaurant or fast foods.
- Reduce use of convenience type foods.
- Remember that seasonings with names that end in “salt” like garlic salt and seasoning salt are high in sodium.
- Combination spices such as lemon pepper may contain sodium. Read the ingredient list to see if salt has been added.
- Limit the use of table salt. Try these suggestions:
- Don’t add salt to food or water while you are cooking.
- Taste a food before you add salt.
- Try one shake of the salt shaker rather than the number you are accustomed to shaking.
- Add white rice to your salt shaker to slow the flow of salt.
- Remove the shaker from the table.
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