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Sodium in diet

Sodium is an element that the body needs to work properly. Salt contains sodium.

Function

The body uses sodium to control blood pressure and blood volume. Your body also needs sodium for your muscles and nerves to work properly.

Food Sources

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, and canned soups and vegetables also contain added sodium. Fast foods are generally very high in sodium.

Side Effects

Too much sodium in the diet may lead to:

  • High blood pressure in some people
  • A serious buildup of fluid in people with heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, or kidney disease

Recommendations

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 recommended amounts of sodium for infants, children, and teens. 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 eating too much salt.

Alternative Names

Diet - sodium (salt); Hyponatremia - sodium in diet; Hypernatremia - sodium in diet; Heart failure - sodium in diet

References

Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76-99. PMID: 24222015. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24222015.

Sacks FM, McManus K. Cardiovascular disease and lifestyle modification. In: Antman EM, Sabatine MS, eds. Cardiovascular Therapeutics: A Companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 26.

Review Date 4/24/2016

Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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