Reducing Sodium Intake

Sodium is an important electrolyte mineral necessary for many functions in your body. It has an important role in maintaining water balance within cells, and is involved in proper functioning of both nerve impulses and muscles within your body. When a muscle cell receives a signal from a nerve telling it to fire, that muscle cell responds by allowing a flood of calcium in, leading to a cascade of activity that causes the muscle cell to contract. The balance of calcium inside and outside of your nerve cells helps to control the flow of sodium in and out. This sodium flow is how your nerves conduct signals to and from your brain. As with your muscles, abnormal calcium concentrations in your blood stream may adversely affect the ability of your nerves to transmit signals.

Along with potassium, sodium also plays a crucial role in blood pressure regulation. You need only small quantities of sodium, and your kidneys usually excrete extra sodium from your body. However, chronic consumption of excess sodium may also lead to edema or water retention.

Humans evolved from simple unicellular organisms in the mineral-laden ocean. Now, billions of years later, the saline fluids around and in your cells and organs recreates that environment, with a similar balance of minerals. Sodium, along with potassium, provides the electrolytic “battery” that pumps nutrients in and out of cells and maintains the proper balance of fluids inside and outside each cell. Because sodium is not easily found in the land environment, your body evolved to retain it. Potassium, on the other hand, is plentiful in a land-based diet (in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits) and so we do not retain potassium. The modern industrialized diet reverses the natural availability of sodium and potassium: potassium is leached out of processed foods, and sodium is used extravagantly as a flavor enhancer and preservative. In addition, the modern diet often lacks magnesium and calcium, and manufactured table salt is exclusively sodium chloride.

Sodium is a component of salt. Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. The sodium portion of salt is associated with high blood pressure.

The Adequate Intake (AI) for sodium is 1,500 milligrams daily for males and females ages 9-50. This equals about 3/4 teaspoon of table salt per day. The maximum recommended level of sodium intake is 2,300 milligrams daily. However, people with hypertension, people who are over the age of 51, or who are African American, should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. This recommendation includes over half of all Americans. On average, more than 85% of American men and women consume sodium in amounts that far exceed the maximum recommended level of intake. The standard American diet contains between 4000 and 5000 mg of sodium per day.

In addition, a diet that is high in sodium and low in potassium can negatively affect potassium status. The Standard American Diet (SAD), which is high in sodium-containing processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables, contains about two times more sodium than potassium. Many health experts recommend taking in at least five times more potassium than sodium. Diets high in sodium also increase the loss of calcium in your urine. Reducing dietary sodium to 2400 mg or less per day may increase calcium retention by an extra 20 or so mg each day. Meat and dairy are high in sodium, while plants are low in sodium.

In addition to those who are African American or over the age of 51, people with the following conditions should limit sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams daily:

  • Kidney disease may lead to trouble excreting sodium and other minerals, leading to water retention and swelling.
  • Congestive heart failure, which can cause swelling and fluid retention in the lungs and throughout the body. Since sodium promotes fluid retention, a low sodium diet may be helpful in relieving fluid accumulation.
  • Osteoporosis, because sodium consumption increases the calcium excreted in urine.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension), which can lead to cardiovascular disease. In “salt sensitive” people, reducing intake of sodium helps to reduce blood pressure levels. A high intake of sodium early in life might weaken genetic defenses against developing high blood pressure. Experts recommend reducing sodium intake while blood pressure is still normal, which may decrease the risk for hypertension later in life. Restricting sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day may be useful for lowering blood pressure. Increasing potassium intake can also help lower blood pressure.

Sodium deficiency is extremely rare, as most Americans over-consume sodium. Deficiency usually only occurs with prolonged bouts of fluid loss due to diarrhea, vomiting, or perspiration. Those who have kidney problems may also be more likely to develop a sodium deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include nausea, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Athletes or anyone who are well hydrated and strenuously active (sweating) for up to four hours can replenish sodium stores easily during the next meal. However, in endurance exercise longer than four hours, sodium stores should be replaced during exercise with food or sports drinks.

A small amount of sodium is naturally present in most foods, but most dietary sodium is found in processed foods in the form of salt. Salt may be added for flavor enhancement and to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Salt is added to most canned foods, some frozen vegetables, most fast foods, and pickled foods. It is used in most sauces, soups, salad dressings, and many breakfast cereals. It is also found in many other ingredients used in food processing. Many commercially prepared condiments and seasonings are also high in sodium.

Maintaining a sodium intake below 2000 milligrams per day requires some effort. The following tips may help:

  • Avoid eating in restaurants, because the majority of restaurant food is over-salted.
  • Avoid all animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, and eggs, which all contain sodium.
  • Use more fresh fruit and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium, and avoid adding salt during preparation. Processed foods and canned food usually contain more sodium.
  • Don’t use margarine.
  • If you do eat packaged food, check food labels for the words salt or sodium. Any ingredient that has sodium, salt or soda as part of its name (monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, and seasoned salt) contains sodium. Note that many high-sodium products, including ketchup, salad dressing, and corn chips, show relatively low sodium values based on very small serving portions. What is important is the amount of the product you actually consume, and the total amount of sodium you are eating each day.
  • Do not use salt substitutes, especially those that contain potassium, without first talking to a medical professional.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table and season foods with herbs and spices rather than salt
  • Plan meals that contain less sodium. Try new recipes that use less salt and sodium-containing ingredients and seasonings. Adjust your own recipes by reducing such ingredients a little at a time. Try 1/2 teaspoon when recipes call for 1 teaspoon.
  • Make homemade condiments, dressings, and sauces that are low in sodium.
  • Taste food before you salt it.
  • Avoid salty foods such as pickles, olives, soy sauce, salted nuts, chips, and other snack foods.

Milligrams of Sodium per 100 grams of Selected Foods

Celery, raw

126

Spinach, raw

71

Nori

48

Parsley

45

Beets, cooked

43

Kale, cooked

43

Carrots

40

Peas, dried

40

Turnips

34

Sunflower seeds

30

Raisins, dried

27

Collards, cooked

25

Coconut, fresh

23

Cabbage

20

Mustard greens

18

Radishes

18

Yeast, compressed

16

Cashews, unsalted

15

Molasses, light

15

Curly Endive

14

Mushrooms

14

Peppers, green

13

Cantaloupe

12

Honeydew melon

12

Sweet potatoes

12

Broccoli, cooked

10

Broccoli, cooked

10

Brussel sprouts, cooked

10

Cauliflower

10

Cereals bran, wheat, crude

9

Lettuce

9

Chickpeas, dry

8

Cowpeas, dry, cooked

8

Parsnips, cooked

8

Beans, white common, cooked

7

Chicory

7

Cocoa, dry

6

Cucumber

6

Nectarine

6

Fruit cocktail

5

Noodles, dry

5

Scallions

5

Peanuts, roasted

5

Rice, dry

5

Avocado

4

Beans, snap green, cooked

4

Bean sprouts, cooked

4

Cereal, wheat, puffed

4

Chocolate, plain

4

Potatoes, baked, boiled or french fried

4

Prunes

4

Rutabagas

4

Barly, pearled

3

Cereal, wheat, shredded

3

Grapes

3

Papayas, raw

3

Tapioca, dry

3

Tomato

3

Walnuts

3

Cereal, Farina, dry

2

Cereal, Oatmeal, dry

2

Figs

2

Flour

2

Macaroni, dry

2

Okra

2

Peaches

2

Pears

2

Peas, cooked

2

Plums

2

Pumpkin, canned

2

Rhubarb

2

Spaghetti, dry

2

Apple, raw unpeeled

1

Asparagus, cooked

1

Banana

1

Beans, Lima

1

Blackberries

1

Cereal, Corn grits

1

Cereal, Cornmeal

1

Coffee, beverage

1

Cranberry juice or sauce

1

Dates

1

Eggplant, cooked

1

Grapefruit, fresh, canned or juice

1

Lemon, juice or fresh

1

Lime, fresh or juice

1

Nuts, in shell

1

Orange peeled, juice, canned or juice

1

Pineapple, raw or canned

1

Raspberries

1

Squash

1

Strawberries

1

Sugar, white

1

Vinegar

1

Watermelon

1

Corn, sweet, cooked

0

Pecans, shelled

0

Instead of salt, consider using the following seasonings on foods:

Adzuki beans Coriander, cumin, ginger
Apples Allspice, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
Asparagus Chervil, curry, dilllemon peel, mustard, tarragon, thyme
Bananas Allspice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg
Beets Allspice, basil, carraway, coriander, fennelginger, horseradish, tarragon
Black beans Bay leaf, chile peppers, cilantro, coriander, cumin, epazote, garlic, ginger, oregano, parsley, savory, thyme 
Black-eyed peas Bay leaf, cayenne, chile peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric
Broccoli Carraway, curry, dillgingermintoregano
Brussels sprouts Basil, borage, carraway, dill, lemon juice, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley
Cabbage Carraway, dill weed, coriander, curry, fennel, gingermintoregano, lemon juice, vinegar, onion, mustard, marjoram, savory, thyme
Cannelini beans Parsley, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Carrots Basil, chervil, cinnamon, coriander, fennelginger, lemon peel, mace, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, orange peel, parsley, sage, thyme
Cauliflower Basil, carraway, curry, dill, fennel, mace, nutmeg, paprika, rosemarythyme 
Celeriac Allspice, basil, coriander, dill, fennel, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, thyme 
Celery Basil, chervil, curry, dill, lovage, paprika, parsley
Chard Allspice, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, savory
Chicory Basildill, fennel, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, parsleythyme 
Chickpeas Cardamom, cilantro, coriander, cumin, fennel, garlic, ginger, mint, paprika, parsley, rosemary
Corn Basil, cilantro, chili, mustard, oreganoparsley, rosemarythyme
Cucumbers Allspice, basil, borage, coriander, dillmint, mustard, parsley, onionrosemary, tarragon
Dips Curry powder, oregano, chervil, parsley
Eggplant Basil, curry, oregano, parsley, pepper, savory, rosemarythyme 
Fava beans Basil, cilantro, cumin, fennelgarlicmint, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
Fennel bulb Basil, coriander, lovage, nutmeg, paprika, parsley
Flageolet beans Parsley, savory, thyme
Green beans Basil, chivesdill weed, cumin, curry powder, garliclemon juice, lovage, nutmeg, oreganorosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme, vinegar
Hors d’oeuvres Chervil, oregano, paprika, parsley
Kale or Collards Allspice, carraway, coriander, dill, marjoram, nutmeg, tarragon, thyme
Kidney beans Bay leaf, cumin, fennel, oreganoparsley, sage, savory, thyme
Kohlrabi Allspice, basil, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, lovage, mace, parsley
Leeks Carraway, dill, lovage, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, sage, thyme
Lentils Bay leaf, cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry, gingermintoreganoparsley, thyme, turmeric
Lima beans Cilantro, mintparsley, sage
Mung beans Cilantro, coriander, cumin, ginger
Mushrooms Oregano, marjoram
Navy beans Basilbay leavesgarlicparsley, savory, thyme
Onions Anise, basilbay leaves, cloves, curry, paprika, parsley, thyme
Oranges Allspice, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, mace, rosemary
Parsnips Chives, coriander, fennelparsleythyme
Pears Allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, mint
Peas Basil, chervil, chives, curry, dillmint, nutmeg, marjoram, onion, parsley, sage, rosemarythyme
Peppers Basil, curry, ginger, lovage, mustard, oreganoparsley, rosemarythyme
Pinto beans Chile pepperscilantro, cumin, epazote, garlicoreganoparsley, savory, thyme
Potatoes Bay leaves, chervil, chives, dill weed, mace, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, nutmeg, thyme
Puddings Arrowroot, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, vanilla bean, ginger, mace, nutmeg, orange peel
Pumpkin Celery leaves, chives, curry, gingeronion, sage, thyme
Radishes Basil, borage, chivesdill, lovage, mint, parsley
Red Cabbage Basil, bay leaves, carraway, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, onion, thyme
Rutabaga Allspice, basil, borage, carraway, dill, marjoram, mustard, parsley, pepper, rosemary
Spinach Allspice, basil, chervil, chivesdill, lemon, lovage, mace, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, mace, nutmeg, thyme
Squash Basil, saffron, ginger, mace, nutmeg, orange peel
Squash, summer Basilchivesdill, marjoram, onionoregano, pepper
Squash, winter Allspice, celery leaves, curry, ginger, marjoram, onionparsley, sage, thyme
Sunchokes Anise, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, mace, parsley, sage
Sweet potatoes Allspice, chili, ginger, leeks, sage, thyme
Tomatoes Basil, bay leaves, chervil, cilantro, cloves, curry powder, dill, oregano, parsley, pepper rosemary, sage
Turnips Allspice, basil, borage, carraway, dill, marjoram, mustard, parsley, pepper, rosemary
Zucchini Marjoram, mint, saffron, thyme

Note:

  • Use 1–3 herbs or spices in a recipe to enhance, not overpower, the flavor of the food.
  • Coriander or curry may be added before cooking; all other herbs and spices should be added after cooking.
  • Use cilantro fresh as a topping; cook only with coriander.
  • Use allspice instead of pepper to add warmth in cold weather.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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