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Jan 26, 2011

Sodium Shake Out

New guidelines recommend that everyone limits sodium intake to 1,500mg a day.

There is little debate that Americans eat a lot sodium, but how much is too much is again coming under scrutiny. Sodium is a major contributor to high blood pressure and as intake of the mineral goes up, so does the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, stomach cancer, and osteoporosis. Our bodies need a small amount of sodium to function smoothly (between 180 and 500mg daily), however the average American consumes a whopping 3500 mg a day.

Based on mounting evidence that thousands of lives could be saved each year by cutting sodium consumption across the population, the American Heart Association has issued a statement recommending 1500 mg a day as the upward limit for healthy sodium intake. Given the fact that 90% of Americans will develop hypertension at some point in their lives, experts urge all individuals, not just those who currently have elevated blood pressure, to strive for the new goal.

Some of the most compelling research in support of an across-the-board sodium reduction comes from several tightly-controlled trails that compared the effects of differing levels of sodium intake on blood pressure.  The lowest level tested in all the studies was 1500 mg, the threshold supported by the American Heart Association.  In each trial, the participants who consumed the least sodium had the greatest reduction in blood pressure. Significantly, people who started the study with normal blood pressure also saw their blood pressure go down with lower sodium intake. 

More than three-quarters of the sodium most people get comes from processed and restaurant foods. This makes it difficult for even the most conscientious label-reader to keep a cap on consumption. For that reason the American Heart Association, backed by other health organizations such as the Institute of Medicine, is calling for schools, government food programs, and commercial food manufacturers to lower the sodium content of their products. Although reducing sodium by the magnitude proposed may seem daunting, researchers say that even a drop in average intake of just 400 mg nationwide would have far-reaching health benefits.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What can I do to reduce my sodium intake?
  • Most of the sodium you get each day comes from processed foods rather than salt you use in cooking and at the table. Here are some tips to help you shake the sodium out of your diet: 

    • Avoid prepared foods. High sodium foods include:

      • Salty snacks such as chips and pretzels
      • Canned soups and sauces
      • Cured meats such as bacon and ham
      • Foods packed in salt water such as pickles, olives, and canned tuna
      • Frozen pizzas and dinners
      • Fast food

    • Use fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include:

      • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt
      • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry rather than cooked or prepared items
      • Herbs and spices as seasoning instead than salt

    • Learn to read food labels.  Look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the label of packaged foods. This will tell you how much sodium is in the food.  When figuring out your sodium intake from the food label, keep in mind:

      • The milligrams (mg) listed is per serving. It is not for the whole package.  If you eat more or less than what they consider one serving, you’ll have to do the math to figure out how much sodium you are getting.

      • The percent of daily value (% DV) is based on 2400 mg a day, not the recommended 1500 mg. That means the sodium in a serving is a higher percent of your daily limit than what is listed on the label.

    • Choose carefully in restaurants. Restaurant food is high in sodium. Some ways to eat out and still keep your sodium level under control include:

      • Having your meal prepared without added salt
      • Asking that sauces, gravies, and salad dressings be served on the side
      • Selecting fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads and plain meats or fish from the menu
  • What do my blood pressure numbers mean?
  • Your blood pressure reading has two parts. The top number (systolic) represents the pressure of the blood against your arteries when your heart contracts. The lower number (diastolic) is the pressure between beats when your heart muscle relaxes. Both numbers are important.  Your doctor or nurse can check your blood pressure during an office visit. You can also measure your blood pressure yourself with a home device. Keep in mind that your blood pressure will rise and fall depending on the time of the day and how active you are.  It is more accurate to look at overall trends rather than a single number.

    Blood pressure is directly associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Ideal blood pressure is below 120/80. Your risk goes up proportionally as your blood pressure rises above that level.  If your blood pressure is elevated, your doctor will recommend that you make changes to your diet and exercise habits. You may also need to take blood pressure lowering medicines.

    blood pressure
  • What else can I do to control my blood pressure?

  • Making dietary changes to reduce sodium intake is a big part of blood pressure control.  But, there are other things you can do to help lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health.  Here are a few:

    • Lose weight if you’re overweight.
    • Get regular exercise
    • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks a day for men.
    • Check your blood pressure regularly and work to stay within your target range.
    • Take your blood pressure medicine the way your doctor has directed.


Too Much and Too Little Salt is Associated with Increased Heart Risks

Study links a low-sodium diet to increased risk in healthy adults, though most Americans consume excess sodium.

Study Confirms Benefits of Limiting Sodium Intake

Lowering salt intake remains an important lifestyle change for adults with elevated blood pressure, confirms study.

Yogurt Helps Protect Women from High Blood Pressure

Regular yogurt consumption reduces risk for high blood pressure by 20 percent in women, finds study.

Cutting Back on Salt in Processed Foods

Though the sodium in some processed foods has been reduced, most Americans still consume too much salt.

The Bulk of U.S. Salt Intake Comes From Processed Foods

Salt added during cooking and at the table accounted for a small percentage of daily sodium intake.