If you're like many people, you're getting far more sodium than is recommended, and that could lead to serious health problems.
You probably aren't even aware of just how much sodium is in your diet. Consider that a single teaspoon of table salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium — more than the daily amount recommended in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
And it's not just table salt you have to worry about. Many processed and prepared foods contain sodium.
See how sodium sneaks into your diet, and find out about ways you can shake the habit.
Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:
Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.
But if for some reason your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases, which makes your heart work harder and increases pressure in your arteries. Such diseases as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for your kidneys to keep sodium levels balanced.
Some people's bodies are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than are others. If you're sodium sensitive, you retain sodium more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If this becomes chronic, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day.
Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you're sensitive to the effects of sodium. If you aren't sure how much sodium your diet should include, talk to your doctor or dietitian.
The average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day — much more than is recommended. Here are the main sources of sodium in a typical diet:
Virtually all Americans can benefit from reducing the sodium in their diets. Here are more ways you can cut back on sodium:
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a typical 4-inch (10-centimeter) oat bran bagel has about 600 mg of sodium, and even a slice of whole-wheat bread contains about 150 mg of sodium.
So how can you tell which foods are high in sodium? Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as:
Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. And be sure you know how many servings are in a package — that information is also on the Nutrition Facts label.
The supermarket is full of foods labeled reduced sodium or light in sodium. But don't assume that means they're low in sodium. For example, a can of chicken noodle soup that claims to have 25% less sodium still has a whopping 524 mg in 1 cup. It's only lower in sodium compared with regular chicken noodle soup, which has more than 790 mg of sodium in a cup.
Here's a rundown on common sodium claims and what they really mean:
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. Consider using salt-free seasonings to help with the transition.
After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the saltshaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.