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Navigating Nutrition: Seek and Find with Hidden Sources of Sodium

April 14, 2023

Written by Riley Smith

Dietary guidelines are a resource tool that help Americans understand how to meet their body’s nutritional needs. Dietary guidelines promote health, and prevent chronic disease. In the U.S., more than half of all adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor dietary intake and lack of physical activity. Frequent intake of convenience boxed, packaged, or fast foods make it difficult to stay on track. Convenience foods and fast foods are often high in sodium content, and have been linked to the following chronic diseases: 

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

On a food product’s nutrition facts label, the amount of sodium per serving will be listed, while the word salt may appear on the ingredient label. Did you know that a single teaspoon of table salt contains about 2,325 milligrams of sodium? The American Heart Association recommends a diet with less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day for a healthy person, and 1500 mg for an individual on a sodium-restricted intake. 

It may surprise you how much sodium you consume on a daily basis. The average American adult consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, nearly 2.25 times the ideal level, and they may not even realize it! Dietary sodium is mostly (77%) found in processed and restaurant foods, with 12% added at the table or while cooking in the form of sodium chloride, also known as salt. Many of the following food products contain a lot more sodium than you may realize.

  • Convenience foods
  • Breads/rolls
  • Savory snacks (packed chips, popcorn, etc.)
  • Poultry
  • Deli meats
  • Condiments
  • Soups

These products contribute a significant percentage of sodium to your recommended daily value. When considering your sodium intake, try to visualize a teaspoon, which is almost exactly equal to your daily recommended value for sodium. You can use that ‘teaspoon’ portion limit to guide your eating habits throughout the day. Another way to visualize this level is to picture one can of Campbell's soup, which has the equivalent of your entire daily allowance of sodium.

Liming your intake of dietary sodium has an impact on chronic disease prevention. If you are attempting to reduce your sodium intake, try to avoid fast food and commercial prepackaged foods. The best way to monitor your sodium intake is to prepare your own food and be aware of your ‘one teaspoon rule.’ You can be in control of your intake by monitoring the amount of table salt you add into meals and using more salt-free herbs and spices. Currently, recommended low sodium diet plans include the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) Diet; both of which focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts/seeds, legumes, olive oil, and low fat dairy. Reducing sodium intake is one of the main goals of both of these dietary recommendations. 

Consider a Breakfast with:

  • A fresh orange, oatmeal (long cooking) with raisins, seeds, nuts, and low-fat milk

Consider a Lunch with:

  • A salad with lean meat, poultry or low-fat cheese and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Add a dressing made from olive oil and vinegar. Add a whole grain roll.

Consider a Dinner with: 

  • Whole wheat spaghetti and meat sauce made from lean beef or poultry and fresh or canned low-sodium tomatoes. Add a tossed salad with olive oil. Add a glass of low-fat milk and some fruits without added sugar.

Consider a Snack with: 

  • Low-fat yogurt with berries and a whole grain cereal that has little to no added sugar
  • Plain air popped popcorn
  • Whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese
  • Fresh fruit
  • Sliced carrots and celery with hummus


References & Resources