Shopping to Meet the New Sodium Guidelines

New Recommendations for Sodium

Some sodium is essential in our diets. The challenge, however, is that most of us are getting too much. Our average intakes are over 3,500 milligrams (mg) per day. These high intakes raise the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and other chronic diseases. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (released in January 2011) call for reducing sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg if you are over 51, African-American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Other adults are advised to consume under 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

Sodium and Salt Are Not the Same

Sodium is a common mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and control the body’s chemical balance. When we say “salt” we are usually talking about table salt, which is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Dietary recommendations refer to sodium in order to include all sources – that naturally occurring in foods, that in food additives such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), as well as sodium in table salt. A recommendation for 2,300 mg of sodium would be about 1 teaspoon of salt; 1,500 mg would be about ¾ teaspoon.

Where is Sodium Found?

Restaurant and processed foods provide 75% of the sodium in our diets. Sodium occurring naturally in foods provides up to 15% and table salt adds only about 10% to the total. Some foods which often contain high levels of sodium include: sauces and condiments; foods preserved in a seasoned brine or vinegar mixture; smoked and cured foods; and many soups, salad dressings, canned vegetables, cheeses, frozen and canned main dishes and cereals.

Changing Sodium Preferences

Lowering sodium requires a commitment to using more fresh ingredients in the meat, seafood and produce areas, and some low or reduced sodium options in the rest of the store. Currently, many food processors are actively lowering salt in their products, so check food labels for sodium levels in some of your favorites. Remember, preferences for high-sodium foods can be modified by making gradual changes over several months.

Sodium Shopping Strategies

Here are some quick tips to help you fill your cart with flavorful foods that will help you meet the new sodium guidelines. Sodium is on the Nutrition Facts panel on products, so compare products within a category and also pay close attention to portion size.

Fruits, Vegetables and Beans

Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables and dried beans are low in sodium. Look for unsalted or low salt canned vegetables and beans. Draining and rinsing regular canned beans before using removes up to 40% of the sodium.

Meat, Fish and Poultry

Most fresh fish, meat and poultry are low in sodium. Fresh poultry may be ‘plumped’ or have moisture added. Both processes can increase sodium by as much as ten-fold.

Cereals, Breads and Baked Products

These categories are often big sodium contributors, but amounts vary so check the labels. Cooked cereals (like oatmeal) are very low in sodium, but instant ones are not.

Soups, Sides and Prepared Meals

Look for those that have been reformulated to have less than 480 mg of sodium per serving. Try cooking with lower sodium soups and broths and then adding additional salt if needed.

Salad Dressings, Condiments and Brined Items

Salad dressings, sauces, ketchup, mustard, pickles, olives and sauerkraut have salt as a major ingredient. Limit your intake of these items and check out the sodium savings when using a lower sodium soy sauce or ketchup.


Choose unsalted or lightly salted chips, popcorn, crackers, pretzels and nuts.

Low Sodium “Seasoners”

Pump up the flavor with herbs, spices, vinegars, flavored oils, citrus juices, chile peppers, gingerroot and fresh horseradish. Look for sodium free seasoning blends such as Lunds & Byerlys French Garden, Herbes de Provence and Tuscan seasonings.

"Salty" Favorites

Use small amounts of salt and higher sodium foods as a final garnish. A dash of coarse grain sea salt to finish a dish, or a few crumbles of a full flavored cheese as a topping can make a tasty addition without breaking the sodium budget.

For Additional Information

• National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – 301-592-8573 –
• American Heart Association – 1-800-242-8721 –