Sodium is an element that the body needs to work properly. Salt contains sodium.
The body uses sodium to control blood pressure and blood volume. Your body also needs sodium for your muscles and nerves to work properly.
Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. The most common form of sodium is sodium chloride, which is table salt. Milk, beets, and celery also naturally contain sodium. Drinking water also contains sodium, but the amount depends on the source.
Sodium is also added to many food products. Some of these added forms are monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and sodium benzoate. These are in items such as Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, and bouillon cubes.
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and ham, along with canned soups and vegetables also contain added sodium. Processed baked goods such as packaged cookies, snack cakes, and doughnuts, are also often high in sodium. Fast foods are generally very high in sodium.
Sodium in the diet (called dietary sodium) is measured in milligrams (mg). Table salt is 40% sodium. One teaspoon (5 milliliters) of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
Healthy adults should limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. Adults with high blood pressure should have no more than 1,500 mg per day. Those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and kidney disease may need much lower amounts.
There are no specific sodium restrictions for infants, children, and teens. However, certain levels of daily adequate intake for healthy growth have been established. These include:
- Infants younger than 6 months: 120 mg
- Infants age 6 to 12 months: 370 mg
- Children ages 1 to 3 years: 1,000 mg
- Children ages 4 to 8 years: 1,200 mg
- Children and teens ages 9 to 18 years: 1,500 mg
Eating habits and attitudes about food that are formed during childhood are likely to influence eating habits for life. For this reason, it is a good idea for children to avoid consuming too much sodium.
Diet - sodium (salt); Hyponatremia - sodium in diet; Hypernatremia - sodium in diet; Heart failure - sodium in diet
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Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann, DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website. 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. www.nap.edu/catalog/25353/dietary-reference-intakes-for-sodium-and-potassium. Accessed June 30, 2020.
Review Date 5/26/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.