How Much Sodium Should You Consume?

Milan Krasula/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
Milan Krasula/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

There is a lot of talk about sodium in the media lately, as well as among health professionals.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report last year about the risks of consuming too little sodium and the adverse affects on health. Other studies have indicated too low of a sodium intake may have negative effects on cholesterol and insulin resistance and increased death for type 2 diabetics. The IOM recommends limiting sodium intake to 2300 mg/day, which is about one teaspoon per day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports healthier outcomes of lower sodium intake and lower risks for high blood pressure that is a precursor for the leading cause of death worldwide: cardiovascular disease. The more risk factors you have, the less sodium you should consume. If you are in generally good health, the CDC also recommends 2300 mg/day.

The American Heart Association (AHA) takes the stand that everyone consumes too much added salt. The AHA stands firm on its statement that nine out of 10 Americans consume around or more than 3400 mg of sodium a day. If you have risk factors or you are in general good health, the AHA recommends 1500 mg/day (or about 2/3 teaspoon).

As a dietitian, my recommendations are not necessarily a milligram amount but one simple thing: Eat real food and don’t worry about it.

As consumers, where does one start? As a dietitian, my recommendations are not necessarily a milligram amount but one simple thing: Eat real food and don’t worry about it.

Yes, we do consume too much sodium, not only as adults but as children and adolescents. With higher sodium consumption starting at a younger age, the risk factors for health complications just start that much sooner. Much of our sodium intake comes from processed food. We consume food from boxes, cans and bags at least two out of our three major meals a day and for almost all our snacks. The top three processed foods sneaking large amounts of sodium into our diet are breads/rolls, cured meats (think deli meats) and pizza.

When eating real, minimally processed food like produce, lean proteins and whole grains, our sodium intake is better controlled. You have more freedom to add your own flavor with herbs and spices (maybe a pinch of salt here and there). You are determining what you taste, not a product that was flavored for you.

Be a savvy sodium consumer. Find moderation with balanced meals from real food, limit consumption of processed foods to one to two servings a day – and you will be in control of your sodium intake and within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommended guideline of 2300 mg/day.

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Anne Cundiff
Anne Elizabeth Cundiff, RD, LD, FAND, is a retail dietitian in Iowa, author of "I’m a Registered Dietitian ... Now What?" and host of Conversations with Anne Elizabeth podcast. Read her blog, Nutritional Noshes, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram