Sodium, What’s the Big Deal?

How much sodium we consume on a daily basis is important because a high sodium diet is listed as one of the causes of High Blood Pressure (HBP) a.k.a. Hypertension (HTN). HBP increases the force (pressure) of the blood pumping through the arteries, which weakens and damages the blood vessels and can eventually lead to heart disease.

According to the NIH (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), HBP can lead to stroke, aneurysm, chronic kidney disease, mental status change, eye damage, heart attack, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). All of this is even more concerning because HBP has no symptoms, which is why it is also known as the “silent killer."

Surprisingly, HBP is not just a concern for adults. Both the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the NIH recommend that children should have their blood pressure regularly checked starting at age 3. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report that 1 in 6 children in the U.S. have increased blood pressure. When HBP is left untreated or not reversed, in both adults and children, it increases the risk of the above listed conditions throughout the lifetime. 

HBP Prevention with Daily Sodium Recommendations

One way to reduce the risk of HBP is to not consume more than the recommended daily sodium for your specific age group, race, and/or specific medical conditions.

While reading the recommendations for daily sodium intake, keep in mind that 2,300 mg (milligrams) of sodium is only equal to one teaspoon of salt, total! That includes any added during cooking, shaking on your foods, and those incorporated into the foods you purchase. 

DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) Daily Sodium Intake Recommendations


  • 1−3 yrs 1000-1500 mg

  • 4−8 yrs 1200–1900 mg


Females / Males

  • 9−50 yrs 1500-2300mg

  • 50–70 yrs 1300-2300mg

  • 70+ yrs 1200–2300mg

Pregnancy / Lactation

  • 14–18 yrs 1500-2300 mg

  • 19–50 yrs 1500–2300 mg

The AHA (American Heart Association) recommends that everyone consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily to lower the risk of HBP overall. 

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2,300 mg of sodium daily for the general population.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends 2,300 mg  of sodium daily for the general population and 1,500 mg daily for “Special Populations”, which includes African Americans/Blacks, and people with diagnosed hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) recommends that, in general, individuals with hypertension, blacks, and middle-aged and older adults should limit intake to 1,500 mg of sodium daily.

Become a Sodium Detective

Today, depending on your food and beverage choices, it is far too easy to wildly exceed the daily sodium recommendations from above. This is because, besides using the salt shaker, it’s easy to find high amounts of sodium added to many prepared food items such as those listed below:

  • Restaurant meals
  • Frozen meals – pizza, chicken nuggets, and even items labeled healthy or organic
  • Frozen vegetable/pasta sides with sauces
  • Baked goods – breads, rolls,
  • Boxed meals - e.g. macaroni and cheese, boxed rice side dishes
  • Canned foods – vegetables, soups, meats, pasta, enchilada sauce, and many more items
  • Deli meats – fresh cut and pre-packaged, e.g. hot dogs
  • Fresh meats - e.g. fresh chicken breasts with added broth for flavor
  • Cheese – all types including cream cheese
  • Nuts – canned or bagged
  • Butter, margarine, vegan spread alternatives
  • Condiments – mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, salsa, etc.
  • Mix packets – e.g. taco seasoning, sauce packets,
  • Spice mixes – celery salt, many marinades
  • Salad dressings – dry mixes and bottled

When shopping, it is very easy to overlook the sodium content of foods/meals while focused on making sure the product either does or does not have specific ingredients such as gluten or attributes such as organic. For example, my oldest daughter called me the other day during her lunch break because she was completely blown away after realizing that her healthy, high fiber, vegetarian, low carbon footprint meal had a whopping 810 mg of sodium, which was listed as 35% DV! (see DV explanation below) My daughter said she was disappointed that she had forgotten to look at the sodium while looking at all of the other healthy attributes of the meal.

Sodium Content Resources

Personally, I have to eat low-sodium and gluten free. When going to restaurants, I usually plan ahead and find the sodium/allergy information online at each individual website. If I have not had time to look it up or stopped unexpectedly, most places usually have the information available at the restaurant. 

When purchasing foods, the FDA suggests using the nutrition label to assist you in deciding if the sodium level of a product is a reasonable amount or not. You can do this by looking at the %DV (percent daily value) for each serving size. If the sodium for each serving is 5% it is considered low sodium and if it is 20%, or greater, it is considered high sodium. Depending on your daily sodium allowance, you can decide what your magic %DV number is for your decision making. 

Another good reference tool for grocery shopping are the definitions of sodium related food package wording. The list below can be found on the AHA (American Heart Association) website. 

Sodium-free – Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride

Very low sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving

Low sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving

Reduced (or less) sodium – At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level

Light (for sodium-reduced products – If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Light in sodium – If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving


Cooking and Shopping Resources

Food Network Low Sodium Recipes:

Mayo Clinic Low-Sodium Recipes:

Huffington Post Low-Sodium Snack Article:


Education Resources

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Salt:

AHA (American Heart Association)