Click to enlargeSodium in Foods

Sodium in foods

= salt in your diet.

  • Sodium is a component of salt.
  • One level teaspoon contains approximately 2,400 milligrams of sodium which equals 2.4 grams.
  • Salt is the common name for sodium chloride.
  • We need sodium in our diet to be alive, but very little. Health experts claim 220 mg to 500 mg per day is sufficient.
  • Although salt is the major source of sodium in foods, sodium is also a component of other ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate used in baking (baking soda) and monosodium glutamate (MSG) used as a flavor enhancer.
  • Too much sodium in your diet can lead to health problems. It is one of the risk factors that contribute towards high blood pressure (hypertension), which substantially increases the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
  • In the United States, most people are eating more salt than is good for their health. The federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has made a new recommendation: Americans should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences was more conservative, stating that we should have no more than 1,500 mg per day.
  • By law, when information is provided on food labels, it has to be given as sodium. Labels can be used to gauge the amount of sodium present in various foods. The amounts stated are based on the recommended serving size. Pay close attention to the serving size to accurately judge how much sodium you actually consume.

  • Sources of sodium

    Sodium is present in additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG, a flavor enhancer), sodium nitrite (a preservative), sodium ascorbate (an antioxidant) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and in some medicinal products e.g. antacids. But most sodium in the diet comes from salt.

    Sodium and chloride levels are comparatively low in all foods which have not been processed. Most foods in their natural state contain sodium. Thatís why you need to be aware of both natural and added sodium content when you choose foods to lower your sodium intake. But most sodium in our diet is added to food while it is being commercially processed or prepared at home. However, salt has been used as a preservative and a flavoring agent for centuries. It is also used as a color developer, binder, texturizer, and fermentation control agent (e.g. in bread baking). For these reasons, it is added to foods such as ham, sausages, bacon and other meat products, smoked fish and meats, canned vegetables, most butter, margarine and spreads, cheese, bread, sauces, condiments, pasta sauces, soups, savory snack foods, salad dressings, and breakfast cereals.

    When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. The nutritional panel on many foods list sodium content per serving. Pay close attention to the claimed serving size and do the math. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods. Not all packaged foods have nutritional panels. If there isn't one, read the ingredients section and watch for the words soda and sodium i.e. monosodium, and the symbol Na on labels. These words show that sodium compounds are present. Ingredients in a food product are listed in descending order - from the highest content to the lowest content.

    Sodium compounds to avoid:
  • Salt (sodium chloride): Used in cooking or at the table; used in canning and preserving.
  • Monosodium glutamate (also called MSG): A seasoning used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods.
  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used as alkalizer for indigestion. 1 teaspoon of baking soda contains 1,000 mg (1 gram) of sodium.
  • Baking powder: Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.

  • Health implications of excess intake

    Too much sodium in the diet has been associated with an increased risk of developing stomach cancer and adverse effects on the kidney. It is also one of the dietary and lifestyle factors that have been linked to high blood pressure (hypertension). Whilst hypertension is often symptomless, it increases the risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study has shown the most effective diet to prevent or treat high blood pressure to be one that is low in sodium and fat and includes low fat dairy products (a source of calcium), as well as fruits and vegetables (a source of potassium). This emphasizes the importance of improving the whole diet rather than focusing on any individual nutrient.