The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that all Americans consume no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, more than twice our average intake of 3,400 mg of sodium.  But, what does 1,500 mg of sodium really mean?  Chemically sodium is the positive ion in sodium chloride (NaCl) or table salt and makes up 40 percent of its weight.  One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium and about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt contains the recommended 1,500 mg.  However, it’s not just table salt added during cooking or at the table that you have to worry about.  Many processed and prepared foods already contain a lot of sodium.  Below is a list of where sodium comes from for most of us.

Where sodium comes from –

 5% is added during cooking

6% is added at the table

12% is naturally in food

77% is from processed and prepared foods to which salt has been added during processing

 The AHA has a number of tools to help you reduce your sodium intake. The Salty Six are six popular foods that contribute the most to Americans’ sodium consumption.  By choosing lower sodium options of these foods you can substantially decrease your total sodium intake.

 Learn to be a savvy label reader.   Some food labels state the products are “low sodium” or “sodium free.”   What do these mean?

 Sodium Free: < 5 mg sodium per serving

Very Low Sodium: < 35 mg sodium per serving

Low Sodium: < 140 mg per serving

Reduced Sodium: 75% reduction from usual sodium content

Unsalted: No salt added during processing to a food normally salted

 The AHA’s Heart-Check Food Certification Program makes it easy for you to find lower sodium products.  Look for the AHA Heart-Check mark on products.  This gives you assurance that the food has been certified by nutrition experts to meet nutritional criteria for heart-healthy foods, including sodium.


Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, FAHA

Bickford Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Medicine, University of Vermont

Chair, Nutrition Committee, American Heart Association



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