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What's the Big Deal About Sodium?

By Lexi Nelson

Sodium is an essential nutrient for our bodies that is only required in small amounts to maintain balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly.1 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends sodium intake to be less than 2,300 mg per day which is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. However, the average American consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium daily. High sodium intake can cause an individual to have high blood pressure, increasing their risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.1

Where is all of this sodium coming from in our diets?

More than 70% of this comes from processed and restaurant foods, 6% is added while cooking, 5% is added while eating, and 14% is naturally occurring.3 Some high sodium foods include breads and rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts, cured meats, soups, sauces, gravies, burritos and savory snacks like chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes, and crackers.2

There are several diet adjustments that can be made to help lower your sodium intake and improve your heart health including the following:

  • Eat at home as much as possible! A lot of the sodium in our diets comes from restaurant foods and if you cook at home you can better control the amount of sodium you consume.2

  • Remove the salt shaker from the table. This is a great first step in limiting sodium intake. Instead of using salt to flavor your food try herbs, spices (garlic or onion powder), citrus juice, or other salt-free seasonings.4

  • Choose fresh foods over processed foods. Focusing your plate around fruits and vegetables will automatically decrease your sodium intake.

  • Utilize low sodium options. If you don’t like the taste of the low sodium alternatives, you can always try to combine it with the regular version.3

  • When getting canned items like vegetables or beans, simply drain and rinse to reduce sodium content.

  • Read labels and pay attention to serving size. If you are eating two serving sizes, you are getting double the sodium.

  • When dining out choose steamed, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted rather than pickled, barbequed, smoked, or cured because these tend to be higher in sodium. You can also ask that your food be cooked without salt and get your sauces, dressings, or gravies on the side.3,4

  • Focus your food choices on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, and low fat dairy, while limiting red meat, and sweets to decrease your sodium intake.3

Keep in mind that it’s okay to start small! Implementing any of these sodium reducing tips into your daily routine can promote heart health and reduce other risk factors associated with high sodium intake.


1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2020. Sodium in Your Diet-Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce Your Intake. (online) Available at: <> (Accessed 22 March 2021)

2. CDC. Get the Facts- Sources of Sodium in Your diet. (online) Available at: <> (Accessed 22 March 2021)

3. American Heart Association. 2021. Sodium. Available at: <> (Accessed 22 March 2021)

4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2021. Nutrition Care Manual. (online) Available at: <> (Accessed 22 March 2021)

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