Sodium in Your Diet: Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce Your Intake
You’ve probably heard that most Americans eat too much sodium, and too much sodium can raise blood pressure — which can have serious health consequences if not treated.
Despite what many people think, use of the salt shaker is not the main cause of too much sodium in your diet. In fact, about 75% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods, whereas only a small portion (11%) comes from salt added to food when cooking or eating. But, even though sodium is already in these foods when you purchase them, there are still some steps you can follow to lower your daily sodium intake.
Read the Label
Packaged foods and beverages can contain high levels of sodium, whether or not they taste salty. That’s why it’s important to use the Nutrition Facts Label to check the sodium content.
- Understand the Daily Value. The Daily Values are the amounts of nutrients recommended per day for Americans four years of age and older. The Daily Value for sodium is less than2,400 milligrams (mg) per day. That’s about one teaspoon of salt
Use the Percent Daily Value (%DV) as a tool. The %DV tells you how much of a nutrient is in one serving of a food. The %DV is based on 100% of the Daily Value for sodium. When comparing and choosing foods, pick the food with a lower %DV of sodium. As a general rule:
- 5% DV or less of sodium per serving is low
- 20% DV or more of sodium per serving is high
- Pay attention to serving sizes. The %DV listed is for one serving, but one package may contain more than one serving. Be sure to look at the serving size to determine how many servings you’re actually consuming.
Salt and Sodium: Defined
The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Salt (also known by its chemical name, sodium chloride) is a crystal-like compound that is abundant in nature and is used to flavor and preserve food. Sodium is a mineral, and one of the chemical elements found in salt.
Sodium as a Food Ingredient
As a food ingredient, sodium has multiple uses, such as for curing meat, baking, thickening, retaining moisture, enhancing flavor (including the flavor of other ingredients), and as a preservative. Some common food additives – like monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium nitrite, and sodium benzoate – also contain sodium and contribute (in lesser amounts) to the total amount of “sodium” listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.
Surprisingly, some foods that don’t taste salty can still be high in sodium, which is why using taste alone is not an accurate way to judge a food’s sodium content. For example, while some foods that are high in sodium (like pickles and soy sauce) taste salty, there are also many foods (like cereals and pastries) that contain sodium but don’t taste salty. Also, some foods that you may eat several times a day (such as breads) can add up to a lot of sodium over the course of a day, even though an individual serving may not be high in sodium.
Check the Package for Nutrient Claims
You can also check for nutrient claims on food and beverage packages to quickly identify those that may contain less sodium. Here’s a guide to common claims and what they mean:
|WHAT IT SAYS||WHAT IT MEANS|
|Salt/Sodium-Free||Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving|
|Very Low Sodium||35 mg of sodium or less per serving|
|Low Sodium||140 mg of sodium or less per serving|
|Reduced Sodium||At least 25% less sodium than the regular product|
|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|
Sodium and Blood Pressure
Sodium attracts water, and a high-sodium diet draws water into the bloodstream, which can increase the volume of blood and subsequently your blood pressure. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a condition in which blood pressure remains elevated over time. Hypertension makes the heart work harder, and the high force of the blood flow can harm arteries and organs (such as the heart, kidneys, brain and eyes). And since blood pressure normally rises with age, limiting your sodium intake becomes even more important each year. The good news is that eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure, which in turn, can help reduce your risk of developing these serious medical conditions.
Know Your Numbers
Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small amounts (provided that substantial sweating does not occur) to maintain a balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly. However, most Americans eat too much of it — and they may not even know it. Americans eat on average over 3,400 mg of sodium per day, with intakes generally higher for men than women. However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults and children ages 14 years and older limit sodium intake to less than 2,400 mg per day — that’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt. Adults with hypertension and prehypertension should further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, which can result in even greater blood pressure reduction. So, talk to your health care provider about whether you’re at risk for high blood pressure, and use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool to evaluate how much sodium you’re eating and drinking.
Source: US Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov. Accessed Sept. 8, 2017.