You’re Eating More Sodium Than You Think

    grains of salt and salt grinder

    About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet.

    Why is this a problem?

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    Too much sodium increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure. High blood pressure often leads to heart disease and stroke. More than 800,000 people die each year from heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases, costing the nation $273 billion health care dollars in 2010.

    Note: The words salt and sodium are sometimes used interchangeably because most of the sodium we eat is in the form of salt (sodium chloride). Some salts don’t contain sodium.

    Where does all this sodium come from?

    Most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants. Sodium is already part of processed foods and cannot be removed.

    However, manufacturers and restaurants can produce foods with less sodium. In addition, you can select lower sodium foods when possible and you can cook more foods yourself, to better control how much sodium you eat.

    Problem: Not all foods are created equal

    Understanding sodium in foods can be confusing.

    • Types of foods matter: More than 40% of sodium comes from the following 10 types of foods: Breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats such as deli or packaged ham, or turkey, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches such as cheeseburgers, cheese, pasta dishes,* meat- mixed dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce, and snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn.

    • Sources of foods matter: About 65% of sodium eaten comes from food bought at retail stores, so look for lower sodium choices. About 25% comes from restaurants and it can be hard for a person to tell how much sodium is in restaurant foods.

    • Brands of foods matter: Different brands of the same foods may have different sodium levels. For example, sodium in chicken noodle soup can vary by as much as 840 milligrams (mg) per serving.

    Eating Less Sodium is a Challenge

    • Americans eat on average about 3,300 mg of sodium a day. TheU.S. Dietary Guidelines [PDF - 2.89MB] recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day, and about 6 in 10 adults should further limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day.

    • Foods that otherwise seem healthy may have high levels of sodium (e.g., cottage cheese and turkey breast luncheon meat).

    • Sodium is already part of processed foods and cannot be removed.

    • Sodium is included in surprising ways. For example, much of the raw chicken and pork bought from a store has been injected with a sodium solution.

    • Too many foods in restaurants are high in sodium.

    • Some foods that you eat several times a day, such as bread, add up to a lot of sodium even though each serving is not high in sodium.

    People who should limit their sodium to 1,500 mg a day are:

    • People who are 51 years or older
    • African Americans
    • People with high blood pressure
    • People with diabetes
    • People with chronic kidney disease

    What Can Be Done

    Everyone can:

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