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About Sodium

Sources of Sodium

Sources of Sodium

What’s the difference between sodium and salt?

Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods or is added during manufacturing or both. Table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. By weight, it is about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

What are common sodium sources?

Sodium occurs naturally in some foods and is often added during manufacturing. Of course, we also add it during cooking and at the table, too. Naturally occurring sodium is in foods such as celery, beets and milk. Packaged and prepared foods, like canned soups, lunch meats and frozen dinners, often have sodium added during manufacturing. This sodium might be in the form of salt or other forms of sodium (like baking soda) that show up in our food.

Overall, more than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods. This makes it hard to choose foods with less sodium and to limit sodium because it’s already added to food before we buy it. The rest of the sodium in our diets occurs naturally in food (about 12 percent) or is added by us when we’re cooking food or sitting down to eat. The latter only makes up only about 10 percent of our total sodium intake, so even if you never use the salt shaker, you’re probably getting too much sodium.

Our Salty Six infographic shows the top six sodium sources in the U.S. diet. These include:

  • breads and rolls
  • cold cuts and cured meats
  • pizza
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • poultry

Surprised? Some of these don’t even taste salty! Keep in mind that different brands and restaurant versions of the same foods may have different sodium levels. Some foods come in versions with less sodium, too. Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium you can find in your store.

Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs harbor high amounts of sodium. You can find out by checking the labels and ingredient lists on over-the-counter drugs. For prescription drugs, you can’t tell if it has sodium by looking at the bottle. If in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist if the drug is OK for you.

Watch your ingredients.

Sodium comes in many forms – and it is seen on the ingredients label as “salt”, “soda” and “sodium.” And sometimes, sodium is hidden in multiple words on the label. Here are some examples of ingredients that contain sodium:

  1. Disodium guanylate (GMP)
  2. Disodium inosinate (IMP)
  3. Fleur de sel
  4. Himalayan pink salt
  5. Kosher salt
  6. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  7. Rock salt
  8. Salt
  9. Sea salt
  10. Sodium bicarbonate
  11. Sodium nitrate
  12. Sodium citrate
  13. Sodium chloride
  14. Sodium diacetate
  15. Sodium erythorbate
  16. Sodium glutamate
  17. Sodium lactate
  18. Sodium lauryl Sulfate
  19. Sodium metabisulfite
  20. Sodium phosphate
  21. Trisodium phosphate

Is sea salt or kosher salt healthier than table salt?

Foodies and chefs may prefer kosher or sea salts for their taste, texture or color. But table salt, kosher salt and most sea salts all contain about 40 percent sodium by weight. Even though sea salt may have some trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium, the amounts are tiny and you can get them from other healthy foods.

Some varieties of sea salt may claim to have less sodium than table salt. You can check the Nutrition Facts label to compare how a given sea salt compares to table salt, which has about 575 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon.

Why is there so much sodium in the food supply?

Sodium plays many roles in food. Adding flavor is probably its most well-known function. It’s also used as a preservative to keep food safe, or to enhance the color of food or give it a firmer texture. For example, sodium in the form of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used to help bread and other baked goods rise. Even though sodium plays a key role in many foods, more salt is often added than is necessary. The good news is that many food companies and some restaurants are tweaking their recipes to cut the sodium in the foods they make for you.

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