Sodium in Foods

Salt is the common name for sodium chloride 

  • Salt is used to flavor food and as a binder and stabilizer. Since bacteria cannot thrive in a large amount of salt, it is often used as a food preservative.  
  • We need sodium in our diet to be alive, but very little. Health experts estimate 500 mg per day is sufficient. 
  • One level teaspoon contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium which equals 2.3 grams.
  • Too much sodium in your diet can lead to health problems. It is one of the risk factors that contribute towards hypertension (high blood pressure), which substantially increases the risk of developing heart disease or stroke. It can also cause calcium loss. It can worsen bouts of vertigo and tinnitus which are debilitating symptoms of Meniere's Disease. 
  • In the United States, most people are eating more salt than is good for their health. The federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends 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.
Foods High in Sodium: Salt is added, often in large amounts, to processed or prepared convenience foods such as soups and salad dressings, pasta sauces, canned or dry dinner mixes, frozen meals, packaged cookies and crackers, bouillon, sauces, condiments, and dessert mixes. Many canned vegetables are also laden  with salt.

Pickled foods such as sauerkraut, olives, relishes, dills and gherkins are packed in vinegar and/or brine (heavily salted water), making them exceptionally high in sodium. Many cheeses contain high amounts of salt as well.

Smoked or canned meat and fish products such as tuna, ham, bacon, cold cuts, corned beef and sausage are well seasoned with salt. Deli roast beef and turkey breast are often cooked with salt.

Sodium in Foods Top 10 Sources*

  • Bread and rolls 
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Soups
  • Tacos and burritos
  • Savory snacks; chips, popcorn, pretzels, crackers, snack mixes
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Eggs and omelets 
    *Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Sources of sodium: Most foods in their natural state contain sodium. But most sodium in our diet is added to food while it is being commercially processed or prepared at home. That is why you need to be aware of both natural and added sodium content when you choose foods to lower your sodium intake. When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods. These are listed on food labels. Watch for the words soda and sodium and the symbol Na on labels. These words show that sodium compounds are present.

  1. Salt (sodium chloride): Used in cooking or at the table; used in canning and preserving.
  2. Monosodium glutamate (also called MSG): A seasoning used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods.
  3. 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.
  4. Baking powder: Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.
Other sodium compounds include:
  • Disodium phosphate: Found in some quick-cooking cereals and processed cheeses.
  • Sodium alginate: Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to make a smooth mixture.
  • Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in many condiments such as relishes, sauces and salad dressings.
  • Sodium hydroxide: Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe olives and certain fruits and vegetables.
  • Sodium nitrite: Used in cured meats and sausages.
  • Sodium propionate: Used in pasteurized cheese and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds.
  • Sodium sulfite: Used to bleach certain fruits such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are to be artificially colored; also used as a preservative in some dried fruits such as prunes.

    photo credit: Honest Slogans