Sodium: How much is too much?

Sodium intakeWe know we shouldn’t have too much sodium.  Experts agree that excessive sodium intake can elevate blood pressure and increase risk of stroke, heart attacks, and kidney disease.  U.S. dietary intake data reveals that 97% of children and adolescents are at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases due to consuming too much salt.

But what is “too much”?

According to Harvard Health Publications, the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day.  Your body needs less than 5% of this, or 200 mg, for daily functions and fluid maintenance.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. African Americans and the elderly are more sensitive to salt and sodium and thus need to be more conscientious of their intake.

Like many, I consume most of my sodium via table salt, or sodium chloride.  Here are the table salt to sodium equivalents to help you better monitor your intake:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,400 mg sodium

Can I flush out excess sodium by drinking water?

This is a myth I grew up with: as long as I drink enough water, sodium content doesn’t matter.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.  Kidneys do naturally try to balance the amount of sodium stored in your body by excreting excess sodium in urine.  However, if for some reason your kidneys cannot eliminate enough sodium, it will build up in your blood.  As sodium retains water, the volume of water in the blood will increase.  This can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

How can I reduce my sodium intake?

  • Read the food label and look for low sodium (<140 mg/serving) foods.
  • Consume fresh foods- processed foods are generally higher in sodium. Specifically avoid canned soups, frozen dinners, and salty chips.
  • Don’t add salt when cooking – a lot of sodium in our diets comes from adding it when food is being prepared.
  • Don’t add salt at the table. Keep the salt shaker off the table to avoid temptation of salting your food.
  • Cook from scratch so you have control over sodium.  Check out these low-sodium homemade taco and ranch seasonings recipes or vegetarian slow cooker ratatouille that was featured on Fox 2 News.
  • Don’t go overboard on condiments and salad dressings.
  • At restaurants, choose a low-sodium option or request that salt is not added to your food.

Photo Credit: USDAgov


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Read 4 Comments

    1. Hi Rick – Great question! In regards to sodium content, table salt and sea salt are slightly different. The primary difference between the two is taste, texture and processing. Sea salt has slightly less sodium per serving compared to table salt.
      • Table salt = 2,400 mg of sodium per teaspoon
      • Sea salt = 1,600 mg of sodium per teaspoon
      In the end, it is important to be aware of how much you are using. I have seen my patients tend to use more of the lower sodium salts, which is defeating the purpose.

  1. President Obama asked The Institute of Medicine to gather a panel of experts to evaluate information being promoted by some organizations on salt reduction. They issued a report in May 2013, which determined that the information on salt reduction was not supported by medical research. That report is summarized here:

    The NY Times also had a summary article on this:

    There are good ways to reduce blood pressure, however. These include: limiting alcohol consumption, losing weight, exercizing, and avoiding licorice. Potassium and magnesium help to regulate blood pressure. Using unprocessed salt, which retains potassium and magnesium, instead of processed salt, which is sodium chloride, also helps to regulate blood pressure.

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