University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #FSHN10-06

Shopping for Health: Sodium1

Wendy Dahl and Lauren Foster2

Sodium is a mineral found in table salt. While sodium is necessary for the body to maintain fluid balance and blood volume, consuming excess sodium may lead to an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.

How much sodium do I need?

For optimum health, it is recommended that adults not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium (USHHS and USDA 2015), which is the equivalent of about one teaspoon of salt per day. Healthy young adults require 1500 mg of sodium per day, while those over 70 years of age only require 1200 mg per day (Institute of Medicine 2004). Most people consume far more sodium then they require.

Individuals with high blood pressure or other health conditions may be put on a sodium restriction by their doctors. Most low-sodium diets limit sodium intake to no more than 1500 mg per day (American Heart Association).

What foods are high in sodium?

In the US, the main source of sodium in the diet are bread and rolls, sandwich meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta and meat dishes, and savory snacks (CDC 2012). Salt is often added in processing to preserve foods and add flavor. For example, one slice of a typical frozen pizza has about 900 mg of sodium (USDA-ARS 2009). Boxed meals with pre-packaged flavorings are usually high in sodium as well—a single serving of Hamburger Helper® Cheeseburger Macaroni contains more than 900 mg of sodium (USDA-ARS 2009). Avoiding highly processed foods may greatly decrease your daily sodium intake.

Condiments such as salad dressings or soy sauce may significantly increase the sodium content of foods. One tablespoon of soy sauce has about 1,000 mg of sodium, and one tablespoon of regular salad dressing has about 200 mg (USDA-ARS 209). Choose lower sodium options when they are available. Also, consider using an oil and vinegar dressing with herbs and spices in place of commercial salad dressings.

Shopping for Lower-Sodium Foods

A lower-sodium diet does not require cutting out specific food groups, but it does require conscientious shopping. Different brands of the same food may have dramatically different sodium contents, so it is important to always read the food labels. According to the FDA, low-sodium foods contain 140 mg or less of sodium per typical serving (USDHHS 2013). Foods with less than 5 mg of sodium can be labeled salt free or sodium free. No salt added does not necessarily mean that the food is a low sodium food. It may naturally contain sodium.

Vegetables

When buying vegetables, consider how they have been processed. Canned vegetables often contain high levels of sodium, added to enhance flavor and shelf life. Choosing fresh or frozen vegetables (without sauce), and low sodium or no added salt canned vegetables will help decrease your daily sodium intake, as long as you do not add salt at the table or during preparation. Table 1 lists various vegetables and their sodium contents based on how they have been processed (USDA-ARS 2009).

Bread

Although breads may not always taste 'salty,' they may be high in sodium. Table 2 lists different types of breads and the amount of sodium in each (USDA-ARS 2009). Low-sodium alternatives to bread may be corn tortillas, unsalted crackers, or low sodium sprouted bread products.

Meat

As with vegetables, meats vary in sodium content depending on their preparation. Processed meats such as luncheon meats and smoked or cured meats are high in sodium. Table 3 compares the amounts of sodium in fresh meat roasts to those in processed luncheon meats (Agarwal, Fulgoni, and Spence 2015).

The recommended serving size for most luncheon meats is 2 oz. However, many restaurant-style deli sandwiches provide about 5–6 oz of meat. One 2 oz serving of salami provides almost one third of the recommended daily amount for sodium. If you were to prepare a sandwich with two slices of white bread and 2 oz of luncheon meat, you would have already consumed nearly half of the Adequate Intake for sodium!

Cereal

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals vary greatly in their levels of sodium. While there are some low-sodium cereals available, most are high in added salt. Sodium contents range from under 10 mg per serving in shredded wheat to over 350 mg per serving in some breakfast cereals. Some low-sodium cereals are shown in Table 4 (USDA-ARS 2009).

Cheese

Processed cheeses are generally high in salt, and should be limited in lower-sodium diets. Some grocers carry low-sodium cheeses. Ricotta offers a lower sodium alternative to cheese spread. The sodium contents of various cheeses are listed below in Table 5 (USDA-ARS 2009).

Snacks

Many popular snack foods, such as chips and crackers, are high in added salt. Pretzels have about 500 mg of sodium per serving and a bowl of popcorn has about 350 mg (USDA-ARS 2009). As with other food groups, some snacks may not taste 'salty' but still contain a lot of sodium. For example, one snack-size pudding cup may have almost 200 mg of sodium (USDA-ARS 2009).

To satisfy the need to munch without the extra salt, you might try fruit or unsalted nuts as alternatives. Another option may be to look for brands that offer an unsalted or lower sodium versions of potato chips and pretzels that are unsalted.

Be an Informed Shopper!

Always be sure to read food labels to check sodium contents. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams (mg) on the Nutrition Facts panel. The Daily Value (DV) for sodium is less than 2,400 mg of sodium. When shopping, choose foods with a DV of 5% or less. Foods with more than 20% DV are considered high in sodium.

The next time you are grocery shopping, keep the following general guidelines in mind to limit sodium intake:

  • Choose fresh, frozen, or low sodium vegetables.

  • Choose roasted meats rather than meats that have been smoked, cured, dried, or canned.

  • Choose low-sodium salad dressings instead of regular dressings.

  • Choose low-sodium soups or prepare lower sodium homemade soups.

  • Avoid pre-packaged biscuit and waffle mixes. Instead, choose low-sodium cereals or oatmeal.

  • Substitute dried or fresh herbs for high-sodium condiments.

  • Substitute unsalted crackers and corn tortillas for high-sodium snacks and breads.

References

Agarwal S, Fulgoni VL, 3rd, Spence L, Samuel P. 2015. "Sodium intake status in United States and potential reduction modeling: an NHANES 2007-2010 analysis." Food Sci Nutr. 3(6):577-85.

American Heart Association. "How much sodium should I eat?" http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/how-much-sodium-do-you-need/

CDC 2012. "Vital signs: food categories contributing the most to sodium consumption - United States, 2007-2008". MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 61(5):92-8.

Graudal N, Jurgens G, Baslund B, Alderman MH. 2014. "Compared with usual sodium intake, low- and excessive-sodium diets are associated with increased mortality: a meta-analysis." Am J Hypertens. 27(9):1129-37.

Institute of Medicine. 2004. "Dietary Reference Intakes: Electrolytes and Water." The National Academies. http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/sites/fnic.nal.usda.gov/files/uploads/electrolytes_water.pdf

US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). 2009. "National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22." Nutient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.

US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). 2013. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (9. Appendix A: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims) http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture (USDHHS and USDA). 2015. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. Available at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

Tables

Table 1. 

Sodium content of vegetables*

Sodium (mg per 1/2 cup serving)

Fresh

Frozen (no salt)

Canned

Canned (low or no sodium)

Asparagus

1

3

346

32

Carrots

42

43

295

42

Collards

4

43

490

240

Yellow Corn

11

3

286

15

Green Beans

3

58

311

17

Peas, Green

3

4

214

11

Spinach

12

92

373

88

*Adding sauces or high-sodium dressings when preparing vegetables can significantly affect the sodium content.

Table 2. 

Typical Sodium Content of Breads

Bread

Sodium (mg/slice)

Italian

117

Mixed Grain

109

Pita, white (4")

150

Pumpernickel

174

Raisin

81

Rye

211

White

128

Whole Wheat

132

Table 3. 

Sodium Contents of Roasted Meats and Luncheon Meats

 

Roast Meats

Sodium mg/serving

Luncheon Meats

Sodium

mg/serving

Chicken

43

705

Turkey

40

705

Beef

32

630

2 oz servings

Table 4. 

Low Sodium Cereals

Cereal

Sodium (mg/serving)

Puffed Rice, Puffed Wheat and Toasted Wheat Germ Cereals

0

Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats®

5

Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Original®

0

Quaker® 100% Natural Cereal with Oats, Honey & Raisins

127

Kellogg's Smacks®

51

Kellogg's All-Bran Original®

81

Kellogg's Corn Pops®

124

mg = milligrams

Table 5. 

Sodium contents of typical cheeses

Cheese

Sodium (mg/oz)

Parmesan

433

American

422

Blue

395

Swiss

54

Provolone

248

Mozzarella

178

Cheddar

176

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN10-06, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date July 2010. Revised January 2011, November 2012, and February 2016. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Wendy J. Dahl, associate professor; and Lauren Foster, former student, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS do not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.