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Pass the salt - A discussion about sodium

Last Modified: June 18, 2019

Nutrition & Recipes

This post was written by Kayleigh Shoaff, RDN, CD, clinical inpatient dietitian nutritionist, Parkview Hospital Randallia.

Sodium is an essential mineral that can be found in our blood and in the fluid around our cells. It helps the body maintain a normal fluid balance and plays a role in normal nerve and muscle function. Sodium will primarily leave our bodies through urine and sweat. The kidneys are in charge of maintaining a normal sodium level in the body by regulating how much is excreted in the urine.

While some sodium is necessary, the common American diet contains an excessive amount. In a typical day, individuals in the Western population consume 6,000-15,000 milligrams of sodium. The recommendation for an average person is only 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily.

High sodium consumption has been found to raise blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is known as the No. 1 killer worldwide. According to the American Heart Association, 90 percent of Americans are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.

Sources of salt

So, where is all the sodium coming from? Roughly 90% of the sodium we consume comes in the form of salt (sodium chloride). More than 70% of that salt is from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods. About 11% of our salt intake comes from the salt shaker on the table.

Even if you aren’t adding it yourself, you could still be consuming more sodium than you think. Foods that contribute the most to sodium consumption include breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, soup and chicken (even fresh chicken is sometimes injected with a salty solution). Just 1 teaspoon of salt provides 2,300 milligrams of sodium. This means 1 small teaspoon of salt provides your entire daily recommended amount of sodium.

Low sodium levels

While the average, healthy American should not be overly concerned about not getting enough sodium in their diet, there are certain populations that experience a condition called hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood). This is more prevalent in the hospitalized population.

Hyponatremia is usually caused by disorders such as kidney disease, cirrhosis and heart failure, conditions that cause people to drink too much water (polydipsia), people who take thiazide diuretics, and, most commonly, a condition called syndrome of inappropriate secretion of antidiuretic hormone, which causes the body to hold on to too much water. Inadequate amounts of sodium in the diet is rarely the cause for hyponatremia and should not be a concern for an average, healthy person. Hyponatremia needs to be treated and monitored by a physician.

If you have any concerns regarding your sodium intake, speak with your physician or a registered dietitian nutritionist for a plan tailored to your specific needs. 




American Heart Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Merck Manuals


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