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How to Slash Sodium From Your Diet

Your body needs a small amount of sodium to work properly, but excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which can harden your arteries and decrease blood flow to your heart. This decrease in blood flow can cause a number of other problems, including angina, heart failure, heart disease and even a heart attack or stroke.


How much is too much? Most of us are consuming too much sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day -- about a teaspoon of table salt.

Some groups, such as older adults, African Americans and people with high blood pressure or diabetes, need to consume even less. However, the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams every day. Most kids are also getting too much salt: Almost 80 percent of toddlers and more than 90 percent of children ages 4 to 18 eat more salt than recommended. [1]

Where is it coming from? Lowering the sodium in your diet is possible if you know where you are most likely to find it. More than 75 percent of the salt we eat comes from restaurants and processed foods. The rest comes from the combination of sodium that is found naturally in foods and salt added while cooking or eating.

In addition to the actions we can take individually to reduce sodium intake, many food manufacturers and restaurants are also taking steps to lower sodium in their products. The combination of these efforts will help lower sodium consumption overall.  

Small changes can make a big difference. The good news: By making a few simple changes we can modify our sodium levels and greatly improve our overall health.

1. Know where the sodium is. Sodium is sometimes found in items that may surprise you. Empower yourself by knowing the list of the 10 foods that contribute the most sodium in our diets, including bread and rolls, pizza and cold cuts and cured meats.

2. Eat in. Take control by cooking at home. Ingredients such as garlic, lemon and herbs and spices can boost flavor while keeping sodium down. The CDC's Million Hearts program provides tips, recipes, shopping lists and meal plans in its Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center.

3. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen or canned with no salt added are great, but skip or lower those with sauces, since salt and sugar are common ingredients.

4. Be informed. Ask for nutrition information at restaurants -- or look it up before you go -- so you can make informed choices. You can always ask that no salt be added and request your sauces or dressings on the side.

5. Choose the lower-sodium option. Similar products can vary in sodium content. If buying processed foods, compare labels and choose the option with less sodium.

6. Retrain your taste buds. Some research shows that our taste buds adapt to the taste of lower-sodium foods. Over time, the less sodium you eat, the less you'll want.

Once you find the biggest sources of salt in your diet, you're empowered to control how much salt you eat. With this list, you have the tools to be sodium-savvy and heart-healthy.

--Janelle and Lauren

Readers -- Is there too much salt in your diet? Do you monitor how much salt you and your family are eating on a daily basis? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to lower your sodium consumption? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Janelle Peralez Gunn, M.P.H., RD, is the Policy and Partnership Team Leader for the CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Her team leads partnership activities for the Division and for the Million Hearts Initiative and coordinates the CDC's sodium-reduction initiative. Janelle received both a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Master of Public Health, with a focus in public-health nutrition, from the University of Minnesota. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Lauren E. Owens, M.P.H., is a Public Health Analyst/ORISE Fellow for the CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. She is part of a team working on nutrition, sodium-reduction initiatives and partnership activities. Lauren received a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Public Health from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, where she focused on epidemiology and social determinants of health.

1. Centers for Disease C, Prevention. Trends in the prevalence of excess dietary sodium intake – United States, 2003-2010. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. Dec 20 2013;62(50):1021-1025.



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