Sodium is the essential nutrient found in salt. Essential means that you need it to live. But eating too much sodium can be bad—even dangerous—for your health, especially if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
Here’s why: high levels of sodium in your blood cause your bloodstream to hold more water. This causes added stress on your heart and added pressure on your blood vessels. Over time, this pressure can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium a day—almost 50% more than is recommended!
More than 75% of the sodium most people eat isn’t from table salt—it’s in processed foods and restaurant meals, some of which don’t even taste salty. Here are some of the places where sodium can hide in high levels:
- Frozen meals
- Deli meats
- Sauces and condiments like ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce
- Salad dressing
- Canned foods (including vegetables and soup!)
How to Eat Less Sodium
Reducing the amount of sodium you eat might be easier than you think. Here are some tips:
- Instead of buying pre-made or packaged food, make your own! You’ll be better able to control the taste and sodium levels. Find healthy recipes here.
- Pick fresh meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. If you can’t get fresh, go for frozen. Avoid canned foods whenever you can, and when you do eat canned foods, rinse them with water before eating.
- Potassium is a nutrient that relaxes muscles and helps the body get rid of sodium. Eat foods that are rich in potassium, like bananas, potatoes, and avocados.
- Read nutrition labels to see how much sodium is in your food. Remember to always check serving size!
- Choose foods that are low in sodium—many of them will be labeled this way. Here’s what some common terms you might find on food packaging mean: