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The Salty Truth about Sodium

Written by Taylor Newman, MS/DI student | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD

salt pouring

What is salt?

Table saltthe most common form of saltis a combination of sodium and chloride. It’s used to preserve food and enhance flavor. It can be found in the salt shaker or in processed foods.

Sodium intake recommendation

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a limit of 1,500 milligrams a day for most adults (about 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt) and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt).[1] Most Americans eat 3400 milligrams (mg) a day-- much more than the recommendation! The majority of the sodium we eat comes from processed, packaged foods and not from the salt shaker.

While 75% of the sodium we eat is from processed, packaged and restaurant foods[2], it can be helpful to understand how much sodium is in a teaspoon:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

What happens if I eat too much sodium?

Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.[3] The body dilutes the excess sodium in your blood by holding onto water. The increase in fluids causes high blood pressure and makes the heart pump extra hard. If the heart works too hard for too long, the blood vessels can stiffen and cause a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. Excess sodium also stresses the kidneys as they try to manage the body’s blood pressure.[4]

The following are at a higher risk than others for developing sodium-related health issues:

  • People over age 50
  • People who have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
  • People who have diabetes
  • African Americans

Guess how much sodium is in each meal

bowl of noodles

The block ramen noodle packages from the grocery store actually contain TWO servings not one. The full block with seasoning contains a whopping 1,820 mg of sodium. Still want noodles without all the sodium? Skip the seasoning packet and pair the noodles with vegetables and 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce for a healthier stir fry instead.

 

 

pizza

 

An entire medium 12” restaurant pizza can have 3,680 mg of sodium.[5] If it’s cut into 8 slices, that’s 460 mg a slice! Adding cured or processed meats like pepperoni and sausage can increase the sodium even more!

 

 

How can I eat less sodium?

  • Choose condiments wisely. Additions like ketchup and soy sauce can be high in sodium. Try to use the reduced or low-sodium option instead.
  • Read the labels. Don’t know how much sodium is in your food? Sodium is listed on the nutrition facts label of processed foods. Remember to check the serving size and recognize how much sodium is in each serving.
  • Use spices, herbs, lemon juice, or garlic instead of salt to flavor your food.
  • Control your portion sizes. Having a carefully portioned serving of a salty meal at home or taking half of a sodium-filled entrée at a restaurant to go can help reduce your sodium intake.
  • Check out more tips from the AHA and then see how you can take steps to make a salty meal more heart healthy.

We still need some salt

The body needs a small amount of sodium to function properly (less than 500 mg a day).[6] Additionally, most table salt has been combined with iodine, a mineral that helps the body make thyroid hormones and prevents the iodine-deficiency disease, goiter.[7] Without iodine, our thyroid grows large and doesn’t work properly. We do not make iodine in the body so we have to get it from our diet. When choosing a table salt, choose one with iodine. Processed foods like canned soups almost never contain iodized salt.

Sea salt vs. table salt

MYTH

TRUTH

Sea salt has less sodium than regular table salt.

Sea salt often has as much sodium as table salt.

Sea salt is healthier because it contains minerals like magnesium and potassium

The amount of minerals in sea salt is so low that it provides no real health benefit.

So what’s the difference?

The main differences between sea salt and table salt are the cost, buyer perception of health benefit, and source of the salt. To the last point, sea salt comes from the evaporation of seawater. It undergoes little processing, which is why it holds onto those small levels of minerals. Table salt is mined from salt deposits in the earth and then ground into a soft texture. Sea salt generally does not have iodine added.

Verdict: There is little difference between sea salt and table salt when it comes to sodium content. Read nutrition facts labels to bring down your total intake of sodium.