Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt

man's hands adding salt to meat while cooking

How does sodium affect your health?

Sodium is a mineral that supports vital functions. It’s regulated by your kidneys, and helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also affects nerve impulses and muscle function.

How does sodium affect my heart?

Access sodium in your bloodstream pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the amount (volume) of blood inside them. When more blood flows through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Increased blood flow also makes the heart work harder to pump more blood through the body.

Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the buildup of sticky plaque that can block blood flow. And extra water in your body can lead to bloating and weight gain.

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms aren’t always obvious. It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide. About 90% of adults in the United States are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.

Sodium may affect your blood pressure even more dramatically if you’re sensitive to salt.

Certain factors may influence your blood pressure when you eat salt:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs as you age.  It can also reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches.

Where does sodium come from?

Table salt is a combination of two minerals — about 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

Yet, before we use the salt shaker at the table, some foods are already loaded with too much sodium. More than 70% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods due to salt added for flavoring, stabilizing, preserving and reducing bacterial risk.

The rest of sodium in the diet comes naturally in food (about 15%) or from salt added when cooking food or to our plates (about 11%).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. Yet, we typically consume about 50% more, or 3,400 mg. An AHA survey found that about 75% of adults in the U.S. prefer less sodium in processed and restaurant foods. So it’s important to know the amount of sodium in foods you eat.

The top 10 food sources of sodium in food and our diet are:

  • Breads/Rolls
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Cold cuts, luncheon and cured meats
  • Soups
  • Burritos/Tacos
  • Savory snacks (chips, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, snack mixes)
  • Poultry
  • Cheese
  • Egg Dishes/Omelets

It may come as a surprise that some of the foods are on this list because they may not taste salty.

The average amount of sodium in a few foods include:

  • 1 slice cheese pizza = 600 milligrams (mg) sodium
  • 1 serving fast food chicken tenders = 800 milligrams (mg) sodium
  • 1 slice cooked bacon = 400 milligrams (mg) sodium

What are the benefits of cutting down on sodium?

Eating less sodium can reduce your risk for high blood pressure, fluid retention, heart disease, stroke, kidney issues, osteoporosis and cancer.

If people in the U.S. consume an average 1,500 mg/day sodium, it could result in a 25.6% decrease in high blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings. Another estimate projects that achieving this goal would reduce cardiovascular disease deaths from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years.

What are the FDA sodium targets?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and AHA support the food industry’s volunteer sodium average intake target from 3,400 mg to 3,000 mg. Some food companies are already reducing sodium in many of their products. Other food manufacturers and restaurants will lower the amount of sodium in their foods to meet the new targets. That means healthier foods for you and millions of other consumers.

The FDA plans to review its guidance to the food industry and take further steps to lower sodium in the food supply to meet the 2,300 mg of sodium limit recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Is sodium really that bad?

The science behind sodium reduction is clear. Significant evidence links excess sodium intake with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

While some newer research questions the link between sodium and health problems, the connection is well-established. Much of that research is flawed, including inaccurate sodium intake measurements and an emphasis on studying people who are sick rather than the general population. Often, the studies with paradoxical findings are poorly designed to examine the relationship between sodium intake and health outcomes.


Recipes

Try our super-easy, super-scrumptious unfried version — tender and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It's a healthy twist on a Southern favorite.

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