Health Benefits

Hold the Salt, Please! Reduce Sodium to Improve Your Health

A couple in the kitchen preparing food

Do you ever consider how much sodium you take in? Even if you do, chances are you’re like most people and underestimate what you really consume.

Most of us get sodium from salt, which is composed of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. The American Heart Association recommends that we aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The average American consumes more than twice that amount.

Sodium helps nerves and muscles to work and keeps fluids balanced. However, too much sodium may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Sodium moderation is especially important for people 51 and older, African Americans, or people with high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, or chronic kidney disease.

Even if you skip sprinkling salt on your food, that may not be enough to reduce your intake to recommended levels. About 75 percent of most people’s sodium comes from consuming processed and prepared foods.

Big sodium sources include: baked goods, condiments such as ketchup or barbecue sauce, pasta sauces, cheese, frozen dinners, rice mixes, pizza, sliced deli meats, bacon, sausage, french fries, potato chips, and salad dressings.

Get in the habit of reading food labels on the products you buy and asking for nutrition information when you are dining out. With a little extra knowledge and effort, you can make smart nutrition decisions that will impact your health in positive ways.

Tips to Reduce Your Salt Intake

Make a swap. To keep sodium levels down and flavor food up, replace salt with fresh or dried herbs and spices, such as basil, cumin, garlic, sage, and thyme. Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to fish and vegetables.

Dine in, dine out. Prepare more food at home, where you have control over sodium. Use little or no salt or low-sodium spice blends when cooking or eating foods. When eating at restaurants, ask that salt not be added to your food or order lower-sodium options, if available.

Read up. Look at the nutrition facts label to check a product’s sodium content. Choose foods that are under 480 mg per serving.

Shop the perimeter. Stick to the outside edge of the supermarket, where you will typically find fresh foods. Try to avoid the processed food aisles.

Perhaps a banana? Choose foods with potassium. They counter the effects of sodium and may help to lower your blood pressure.

Members of the CalPERS Health Program have access to many nutrition, wellness, and prevention programs (PDF) through our health plan partners, including diabetes prevention, nurse help lines, wellness coaching, smoking cessation, maternity support, and more. Contact your health plan for more information on these free or low-cost programs.

Source: Adapted from the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.