For optimal heart-health, the American Heart Association recommends people aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. That level is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Because the average American’s sodium intake is so excessive, even cutting back to no more than 2,400 milligrams a day will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. The guideline to reduce to 1,500 mg doesn’t apply to people who lose big amounts of sodium in sweat, like competitive athletes, and workers exposed to major heat stress, such as foundry workers and fire fighters, or to those directed otherwise by their healthcare provider. If you have a medical conditions or other special dietary needs or restrictions, you should follow the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.
Did you know that on average, Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day — much more than the American Heart Association and other health organizations recommend? Most of us are likely underestimating how much sodium we eat, if we can estimate it at all. The association surveyed 1,000 adults and found that one-third couldn’t estimate how much sodium they ate, and another 54 percent thought they were eating less than 2,000 mg sodium a day.
Keeping sodium in check is part of the overall heart-healthy eating pattern that the American Heart Association recommends. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while including low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts, and limiting red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. Following this pattern should help you limit not only the sodium you eat but also the saturated fat and trans fat you eat.
How can I tell how much sodium I’m eating?
You can find the amount of sodium in your food by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams, abbreviated “mg.” Check the ingredient list for words like sodium, salt and soda. The total sodium shown on the Nutrition Facts label includes the sodium from salt, plus the sodium from any other sodium-containing ingredient in the product (for example, ingredients like sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate [MSG], or sodium benzoate).
Remember to take note of the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label. If your portion size equals two servings of a product, you’re actually eating double the sodium listed.
Here are sodium-related terms you may see on food packages:
- Sodium-free – Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride
- Very low sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
- Low sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving
- Reduced (or less) sodium – At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
- Light (for sodium-reduced products – If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
- Light in sodium – If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
Check out our handy sodium tracker to help you keep tabs on how much sodium you’re eating. Just jot down what you eat — that blueberry muffin for breakfast, or the garlic bread with last night’s spaghetti — and the accompanying sodium stats. Remember: Sodium levels vary in the same foods depending on the brand or restaurant.
At the end of the day it’s easy to tally how much sodium you consumed so you can make better choices as needed. Sometimes a small adjustment can bring big results when it comes to your health! Keep exploring this website and our blog, the Salty Scoop, for tips.
Is there such a thing as eating too little sodium?
The body needs only a small amount of sodium (less than 500 milligrams per day) to function properly. That’s a mere smidgen — the amount in less than ¼ teaspoon. Practically no one in this country even comes close to eating less than that amount. Plus, healthy kidneys are great at retaining the sodium that our bodies need.
There’s no reliable evidence that eating less than 1,500 mg per day of sodium is a risk for the general population. There is some evidence that this may be harmful to certain patients with congestive heart failure, but those people make up only a small part of the population.