Sodium is essential for life, but getting too much may be bad for your health. Depending on your specific health needs, dietary sodium recommendations range from 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day. Most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams daily, according to the American Heart Association. Learning the basics about dietary sodium can help you manage your intake, but if you need further guidance, consult a registered dietitian to help you shake the salt habit.
The Recommended Daily Sodium Intake for You
Your body can't function without sodium; it's an essential electrolyte that helps regulate blood pressure and fluids, and it's necessary for the normal workings of your muscles and nerves. But you're probably getting a lot more sodium in your diet than you need. While minimum amounts of sodium haven't been set, your body may be able to function on as little as 200 to 500 milligrams a day, according to the World Health Organization.
Because too much sodium may have a negative affect on your health, recommendations are established for the maximum you should get each day. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association suggest limiting sodium intake to 2,300 to 2,400 milligrams a day.
If you have high blood pressure, dropping your intake down to 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily may help control your blood pressure better. People with heart failure, liver cirrhosis or kidney disease may also be advised to limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams, depending on their specific medical situations.
Which Foods Contain Sodium
Sodium is naturally found in a number of foods -- milk, meat and certain veggies such as celery and beets -- so getting enough sodium is rarely a problem. One large celery stalk has 51 milligrams of sodium and 3 ounces of roasted chicken has about 75 milligrams.
Table salt, with 2,300 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon, contributes to your overall intake; however, the salt shaker isn't responsible for the excessive amounts of sodium in the American diet. About 75 percent of the sodium you get comes from what's been added to processed and restaurant foods, according to the AHA. Sodium-laden foods include deli meats, processed meats, bread, crackers, chips, fast food, pizza, frozen dinners and soups. A cup of chunky chicken noodle soup has more than 800 milligrams of sodium. Even baked goods,because of the baking soda and added salt, are also a source of sodium. Condiments, such as ketchup, salad dressing, Worcestershire and soy sauce are also high in sodium.
What Happens if You Get Too Much Sodium
Consuming too much sodium causes fluid retention in some people. The extra fluid strains the heart and causes an increase in blood pressure. If left uncontrolled, high blood pressure damages your arteries and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction and vision loss. Getting too much dietary sodium is also a risk factor for stomach cancer and osteoporosis.
How to Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Limit Sodium
If you're trying to limit your sodium intake, the nutrition facts label is a good place to start. A food that contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving is considered a low-sodium food. A food item can't be labeled healthy if it has more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving, according to the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a meal can't have more than 600 milligrams per serving. Paying attention to the amount of sodium found in the food you eat may help you stay within the recommended levels.
How to Reduce Sodium Intake
An easy way to limit sodium intake, and promote better health, is filling your diet with whole and minimally-processed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat, dried beans and milk. Even though many of these foods naturally contain some sodium, the amount is minimal compared to that found in processed foods. For example, swapping out 3 ounces of deli turkey for 3 ounces of fresh roasted turkey will save you more than 700 milligrams of sodium. Half a cup of frozen peas has almost 200 milligrams less sodium than the same size serving of canned peas.
Add flavor using herbs and spices, such as garlic, cinnamon, oregano and basil, instead of salt and high-sodium condiments. Lemon juice, vinegar and most hot sauces also add a little kick without the extra sodium. Avoid using salt during cooking, and if you must use it, just sprinkle on a few grains at the table.