How Much Salt Is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends intake of less than 1500 mg of sodium per day for adults but on average we take more than twice the recommended amount. The recommendation translates to about 2/3 teaspoon of salt per day. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride but salt is not the only ingredient in our food that contains sodium. Other sources of sodium in our diet are baking soda, and food additives like MSG, sodium nitrite, and sodium benzoate. Only about 11% of our sodium comes from table salt and salt added to our cooking. The rest usually comes from processed foods high in additives. The best way to cut down on salt is cooking with fresh ingredients. On the other hand, physical activity and sweating increases your sodium needs.

Sodium is an important nutrient in controlling blood pressure, blood volume and electrolyte balance in our body. We only need 180 mg to 500 mg sodium per day equivalent to only ¼ teaspoon of salt to support all body functions that requite sodium.

High sodium intake has been associated with higher risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney problems. People older than 51, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease are high-risk populations who need to watch their sodium intake. Women’s average sodium intake is less than men’s therefore men are usually more at risk.

Like sugar, sodium is a common ingredient in most processed foods. It is also used as a flavor and color enhancer. Baked goods usually contain a lot of sodium because self-rising flour has leavening with lots of sodium in it. Baked goods add about 354 mg per day of sodium to the average American diet. Other high sodium products are dairy, canned products and cured meats. All types of salts including sea salt and kosher salt has the same amount of sodium as the regular salt so their differences are not the sodium content rather texture, taste and other components.

Watch for how much sodium you take by reading food labels to see how much is in one serving of each food. Even the sodium free products have up to 5 mg of sodium in them. “Low sodium” on the labels means up to 140mg of sodium per serving. Cooking with less salt or no salt and using spices and herbs for flavor in food are also great strategies to reduce sodium in diet. It usually takes 8 to 12 weeks to get used to the taste of low salt foods especially if you have been eating salty foods for a long time.