Sodium overload

How much is too much sodium?

Sodium is an essential nutrient that helps control fluid balance within the human body. It is also needed for muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission.

Sodium is found naturally in many foods, but most sodium in our diet is added from sources including table salt, sauces, meats, dairy products, and processed foods.  

On average, Americans consume about 3,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day with 2,300 mg—or about 1 teaspoon of salt—recommended. This includes sodium in the salt added during cooking, at the table, and sodium that is found naturally in foods.

Although sodium is an essential component of a healthy diet, too much can be harmful. High sodium intake can lead to complications with many diseases including diabetes, hypertension, and kidney, liver, and heart disease.

Making a few small changes to limit sodium intake can benefit almost anyone. When gradually cutting back on sodium, your taste buds will adjust to less salty foods and you may actually prefer them after a few weeks. Try the following tips to decrease sodium intake:

  • Avoid adding salt when preparing foods.
  • Substitute sodium-free herbs and spices for the salt when cooking. Garlic and onion powder, lemon juice, and vinegar can be good flavor enhancers.
  • Reduce intake of salty snack foods such as chips, pretzels, and salted nuts; choose low or no sodium versions when available.
  • Limit intake of salty, processed, or smoked meats and fish, such as bologna, ham, sausage, lunch meats, anchovies, caviar, or smoked salmon.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table to break the habit of salting food at the table.
  • Read labels carefully—choose entrees that contain less than 500 mg sodium per serving when purchasing pre-made meals and choose the lower sodium option when possible for other foods.
  • Go easy on foods prepared in brine, like pickles, olives, and sauerkraut.
  • Limit use of bouillon cubes, seasoned salts, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or barbeque sauce.
  • Reduce convenience foods such as canned soups, microwave dinners, and boxed mixes.
University of Iowa students can schedule an appointment with a provider at Student Health and Wellness online through their MyChart account or by calling 1-319-335-8394.
Last reviewed: 
August 2017

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