This handout is about sodium (salt) and how to lower the amount in your diet.
How much sodium is needed by the body?
Our body needs about 500 mg (milligrams) or about ¼ teaspoon (tsp) of sodium daily. This amount helps the body to:
Send nerve impulses (signals).
Contract and relax muscles.
Keep water and mineral balance.
Most people eat about 3400 mg of sodium in their diet each day. This is much higher than needed. Keep sodium (salt) intake to less than 2000 mg per day or the amount your medical team suggests.
Why lower sodium (salt) in your diet?
Eating too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure. This can lead to heart disease and stroke. Excess salt in the diet can:
Increase water retention. This causes, puffiness, bloating, and weight gain.
Increase your risk for:
High blood pressure
Enlarged heart muscle
Kidney disease and stones
Lowering salt helps to:
Lower your blood pressure.
Reduce puffiness, bloating and help in weight loss.
Reduce the strain on your heart.
Reduce shortness of breath.
Allow your medicines to work better.
What is the difference between salt and sodium?
Sodium is a component of salt. Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, is 40% sodium and 60% chloride by weight. One teaspoon of salt weighs about 6 grams and contains ~2300 mg sodium and ~3700 mg of chloride.
2300 mg sodium = 1 tsp salt
1,725 mg sodium = ¾ tsp salt
1,150 mg sodium = ½ tsp salt
575 mg sodium = ¼ tsp salt
What other foods besides salt have high sodium?
Most (70%) of the sodium in the diet comes from eating packaged and prepared foods. Sodium is added to these foods during manufacturing. Most canned soups, lunch meats, frozen dinners, and many meals eaten at restaurants also are very high in sodium.
Why is sodium added in processed foods?
Because it adds flavor and acts as a binder and stabilizer in food. Adding salt preserves the food and prevents bacteria from growing. This way it can last for months. Foods like meats, baked foods and grains may not taste salty but still have a lot of sodium.
Highest sources of sodium come from:
Pizza made with pepperoni or sausage.
Cold cuts, cured meats, sausages, cheese.
Canned soups and other canned goods.
Burritos and tacos – made with these toppings (sauces, cheese, salsa, tortilla chips).
How much daily sodium should I have?
Aim for no more than 2000 mg of sodium or the goal set by your doctor. The American Heart Association suggests you limit sodium intake to 1500 mg a day if you have high blood pressure. To start, cut down on your daily sodium intake by 1000 mg. This will help improve heart health and blood pressure. You can then move towards a goal of 2000 mg or less.
How can one start cutting back salt?
Start tracking sodium in the diet by:
Read the nutrition facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams (or mg).
Read the ingredients list. Look for words like “sodium,” “salt” and “soda.” These mean salt is added in other forms which may not be added in the total amount listed on the label.
Some ingredients to watch out for include:
Sodium attached to any of these: nitrate; citrate; bicarbonate; chloride; diacetate; erythorbate; glutamate; lactate; lauryl sulfate; metabisulfite; phosphate.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium benzoate
Disodium guanylate (GMP)
Disodium inosinate (IMP)
Fleur de sel
Himalayan pink salt; Kosher salt; rock salt; Salt; Sea salt
Note the serving size on the nutrition facts label. Eating more than what is listed as 1 serving means eating more sodium. In the example below, one serving is 1 cup which gives 470 mg sodium. The package has 2 servings. If you eat the whole package, you will eat 940 mg sodium (470 mg + 470 mg)
Look for these sodium-related terms on food packages.
Sodium-free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving and has no added salt
Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
Low sodium: 140 mg or less/serving
Reduced (or less) sodium: At least 25% less sodium per serving than the original product
Strategies When Shopping for Food
Compare labels. Choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving). Different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.
Pick fresh and frozen poultry. Read the labels and look at the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” These words mean that salt has been injected in them.
Select condiments with care. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be very high in sodium. Look for a reduced- or lower-sodium version.
Get canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces.
Get products with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark.
Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars to add flavor. Check out recipes at American Heart Association website. Use herbs and spices in place of all or some salt.
Drain and rinse canned beans and peas (like chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.) and vegetables if “no added salt” or “low-sodium” is not available.
Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular-sodium versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods, try combining it in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. Try this with broths, soups and tomato-based pasta sauces.
Cook pasta, rice and hot cereal without salt.
Grill, braise, roast, sear and sauté to bring out natural flavors.
Include foods that are high in potassium like sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes and lower-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, nonfat yogurt, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe. Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.
Ask for your dish to be made without salt or less salt.
Add freshly ground black pepper or squeeze fresh lemon or lime, especially on fish, chicken and vegetable dishes to boost flavor.
Avoid foods with these words: pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso or teriyaki sauce. They are very high in sodium.
Order foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted as these have less sodium.
Control portion sizes. Ask if smaller portions are available. Share the meal with a friend or ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later. When you cut calories, you cut sodium.
Chain restaurants with 20 or more locations give nutrition information that lists sodium content. Some restaurants post this on a website and/or share upon request.
What if food tastes bland?
The natural flavor of food is enhanced with less salt, especially when you use cooking techniques and flavorful ingredients listed above. Over time, your taste buds will adjust.
There are many salt substitutes. Some replace some or all of the sodium with potassium. With certain medical conditions (like kidney disease) and medications, salt substitutes can affects potassium levels. Talk with your healthcare team about whether a salt substitute is right for you. Some examples of salt substitutes are listed below.
The products with an asterisk (*) have high amounts of potassium (1 tsp has more than 1500 mg). None of these should be used by anyone with kidney disease.
Spike Salt Free®
*Adolph’s Sodium Free Tenderizer®
Accent Low Sodium Seasoning®
Pleasoning Mini-Mini Salt®
*Morton Lite Salt®
*Morton Salt Substitute®
*No Salt® or *Nu-Salt®
Are sea salt, kosher salt, and Himalayan salt healthier than table salt?
Kosher or sea salts enhance taste, texture and color. All of these contain same amount of sodium as regular salt. Sea salt and other salts may have trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium. We get these from other healthy foods and don’t need it from salt.
Change Salty Ways in 21 Days
Breads and Rolls / Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
Look for lower sodium items.
Track sodium intake.
Track how much sodium you've cut.
Pizza / Poultry:
Get pizzas with less cheese and meats.
Add veggies to your pizza.
Use fresh poultry rather than fried, canned or processed.
Soups / Sandwiches:
One cup of chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium.
Check labels and try lower sodium foods.
Use lower sodium meats, cheeses and condiments and plenty of vegetables to build a healthy sandwich.
Herbs, Spices and Seasonings: Add Flavor Without the Salt
Lemon/lime juice, citrus zest
Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper®
Scallions, onions, shallots
Onion and garlic powder
Fresh or dried herbs
Flavored pan sprays
Fresh hot peppers and hot sauces
Foods vary in sodium content. Always check labels. Try to select foods with low or moderate sodium. Portion size makes a difference in sodium amounts.
Foods Low in Sodium
Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta
Puffed wheat and rice
Shredded wheat, Slow cook hot cereal cooked without salt
Rice, pasta, noodles cooked without salt
Frozen vegetables without any sauces
Canned if no salt added
Any cooked without salt
Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and fruit juice
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dried Beans, Eggs, Nuts
Unsalted peanut butter
Beans, peas & lentils (cooked dry without salt).
Fats and Oils
Oils, nuts (lightly salted)
Low sodium salad dressings (oil and vinegar)
Honey, jam, jelly, gelatin, hard candies, sherbet.
Carbonated soft drinks, sugar-free powdered drink mixes
Coffee, tea, Vinegar
Foods Moderate in Sodium
Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta
Bread, biscuits, muffins, pancakes, baked goods, crackers without salt, some ready to eat cereals
Fresh or plain frozen vegetables: All cooked with less than 1/8 tsp salt
Milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, puddings
Meat, Poultry, Fish/seafood, Dried Beans, Eggs, Nuts
Fresh meat, poultry, fish (check label)
Frozen fish fillets
Low or reduced sodium tuna
Reduced sodium deli meats
Fats and Oils
Butter, tub margarine, Mayonnaise
Most salted nuts
Pies, doughnuts, pastries
Foods High in Sodium
(140 mg or more /serving)
Bread, cereal, rice, pasta
Many ready to eat cereals, instant hot cereals crackers, breads, and snack foods,
Noodle mixes, instant potatoes, stuffing
Canned vegetables, pickles, sauerkraut
Regular tomato or V-8® juices
Cottage cheese, buttermilk
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dried Beans, Eggs, Nuts
Bacon, ham, Canadian bacon
Canned fish and meat
Corned beef, dried beef
Frankfurters/brats, hotdogs, sausage
Deli meats, breaded shrimp
Veggie burgers and soy products that resemble meat
Some fresh meats injected with sodium solution (pork, chicken)
Rinsed canned beans
Fats and Oils
Bacon drippings, gravies
Most salad dressings
Canned soup, marinades
BBQ sauce, chili sauce
Soy Sauce, mustard, ketchup
Olives, steak sauce
Who to Call
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the phone numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and American Family Children’s Hospital can be reached at: (608) 890-5500.
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation can be reached at: (608) 287-2770.