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How Much Sodium Should You Have?

author image Molly McAdams
Molly McAdams is a writer who lives in New York City. She has covered health and lifestyle for various print and online publishers since 1989. She holds a Master of Science degree in nutrition.
How Much Sodium Should You Have?
Salt spilled from shaker Photo Credit Levent Konuk/iStock/Getty Images

Like fat and cholesterol, sodium is one of the nutrients you should limit in your diet. This can be difficult because sodium is widespread in the American diet. Unless you exercise a great deal, or perspire profusely for other reasons, you only need a very small amount of sodium. Your age and medical condition are among the factors that help determine just how much sodium you should have each day.


While the estimated average intake of sodium in the United States is about 3,400 mg a day, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most people consume less than 2,300 mg. If you're over 50 years old, black or have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the guidelines recommends limiting sodium even further, to less than 1,500 mg a day.


Salt, which is chemically known as sodium chloride, is the main source of sodium in the diet. Although you can control how much salt you add to your food at home, you cannot control the amount of sodium that is used by food manufacturers in the processing of cured meats and packaged food products. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foods such as commercially prepared breads and other convenience foods contribute to most of the sodium in the American diet. Although individual servings of processed foods may not be high in sodium, these foods still contribute much of the excess sodium in the diet because we eat so many of them.


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be reduced or prevented by following a balanced, healthy diet that includes foods low in salt and sodium and adheres to the sodium limitations recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, states the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agency states that reducing sodium in your diet may lower your risk of heart attack or stroke.


If you eat commercially processed foods, such as canned or frozen entrees and side dishes, read the Nutrition Facts label and compare the labels on different brands of similar foods to choose those that are lowest in sodium. Look for products that have no salt added or that are labeled reduced-sodium versions of higher sodium foods. Best of all, prepare as much of your own food as possible so that you can control the amount of sodium in your meals.

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