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What is Sodium?

With it’s bad rap, you may be surprised to learn that you can’t live without sodium. It’s an essential mineral you must get from the food you eat in order for your body to function. Sodium not only helps your body keep fluids in all the right places, but also aids in nerve conduction and helps your muscles work. The kicker is, you only need about 200 milligrams of sodium a day for normal body functions, and most Americans consume closer to 3,400 milligrams.

Salt: Sodium and Chloride

You may know salt best as the white crystals that bring out the flavor in your roasted potatoes. But those crystals are actually minerals made up of the two compounds sodium and chloride, with 40 percent from sodium and 60 percent from chloride. While salt is made up of mostly chloride, it’s still considered a high-sodium item. One teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

Why You Need to Watch Sodium

When it comes to diet and nutrition, the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend you limit your daily intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day. The American Heart Association goes even further, and says you’d be better off limiting your intake to 1,500 milligrams a day. When your blood has too much sodium, your body shifts more fluid into the bloodstream to dilute it. This increases blood volume and, in turn, increases blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Tips for Keeping Low Sodium

While salt is high in sodium, it’s probably not the primary source in your diet. For most people, packaged foods, fast food and ready-to-go meals constitute more than 75 percent of their sodium intake. To keep a lid on sodium, fill your diet with more freshly-prepared foods that are naturally low in sodium such as fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and proteins without added salt. At the grocery store, keep an eye out for foods labeled “low sodium.” When dining out, ask for your food to be made without salt.