Sodium: the facts


Sodium: the facts

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume LESS THAN 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern.

 Based on these guidelines, the vast majority of adults eat more sodium than they should—an average of more than 3,400 mg each day. Eating too much sodium puts Americans at risk for developing serious medical conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. So, what does all of this mean for you and your family? And what steps can you take to reduce sodium?

Sodium Can Add Up Quickly

The first thing to know is that the salt you use at the dinner table is not the biggest sodium contributor in the American diet. In fact, the majority of the sodium Americans consume—more than 70%—is found in processed food and restaurant meals. And don’t let your taste buds fool you. Foods like grains, baked goods, and meats may not taste salty, but they add up to major sources of daily sodium because they are eaten so often. The majority of Americans’ daily sodium intake comes from grains and meat, and other top contributors include processed poultry, soups, and sandwiches. Depending on your food choices, it doesn’t take much to consume more sodium than recommended.

  • One slice of bread can contain anywhere from 80 to 230 mg of sodium, and a slice of frozen pizza can contain between 370 and 730 mg.

  • Some breakfast cereals contain 150 to 300mg of sodium before milk is added. Not all foods are high in sodium. But when you combine foods with varying levels as part of your daily diet, sodium can add up quickly. For example:

BREAKFAST - Bowl of cereal with skim milk - 250 mg sodium

LUNCH - Cup of soup and a turkey sandwich - 2,200 mg sodium

DINNER - Slice of pizza and salad with light dressing - 710 mg sodium

TOTAL SODIUM = 3,160 mg

  • Canned soups and soups served in restaurants can contribute high amounts of sodium.

  • Processed tomato products and salad dressings often include salt and other ingredients that contain sodium.

  • Many snack foods—chips, crackers, and pretzels— contain several hundred milligrams of sodium per serving.

Tips for Shopping Smarter - The more you know about the food you eat, the better the decisions you can make for yourself and your family.

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy. Research shows that foods low in sodium and high in potassium can help reduce blood pressure and the risk for other serious conditions. Examples include bananas, dried apricots, and spinach. Low- or no-fat yogurt, beans other than green beans, and potatoes are also low in sodium and high in potassium.

  • When eating frozen and canned vegetables, choose no salt added or low sodium versions, or choose frozen varieties without sauce.

  • When buying processed foods, read nutrition labels and choose products with less sodium.

Note how many milligrams of sodium are in each serving—and how many servings are in the package.

  • Foods that contain 35 mg or less per serving are very low in sodium. Foods that contain 140 mg or less per serving are defined as low sodium.

  • Check processed meat and poultry, which are often “enhanced” with salt water or saline.

  • Opt for lower sodium or no salt added breads, crackers, and cereals.

Tips for Cooking at Home

  • Use lemon juice and salt-free herbs and spices, such as garlic and pepper, to flavor your food instead of sauces and prepackaged seasonings.

  • Limit added salt while cooking, and taste food first before salting at the table.

Tips for Eating Out

  • Chain restaurants often put nutritional information online. Check ahead to find the lower sodium options.

  • Ask restaurants not to add salt to your meal, and use sauces and condiments only in small amounts.

  • Reduce your portion size—less food means less sodium. For example, ask the server to put half of your meal in a take-out container before it comes to your table, or split an entree with someone else.

  • Ask your favorite restaurants, stores, and food manufacturers to offer more low sodium options.

Learn more at

Beth Ewing, RN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC, LSIM Parish Nurse

Beth Ewing