Skip Navigation Bar
NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Too Much Salt

Labels: For your health

Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride)

Sodium has several functions in the food supply. Various forms of sodium, including sodium chloride, or salt, are used as preservatives to inhibit the growth of food-borne pathogens (especially in luncheon meats, fermented foods, salad dressings, and cheese products). Also read the ingredient list to watch for the words "soda" (referring to sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda), "sodium" and the symbol "Na" to see if the product contains sodium.

Where's the salt?

Sodium can come from natural sources or be added to foods. Most foods in their natural state contain some sodium. However, the majority (up to 75 percent) of sodium that Americans consume comes from sodium added to processed foods by manufacturers. While some of this sodium is added to foods for safety reasons, the amount of salt added to processed foods is clearly above and beyond what is required for safety and function of the food supply.

a bowl of tomato soup

Major food sources of sodium include:

  • Tomato sauce (can or jar)
  • Soups (can, dehydrated)
  • Condiments (prepared, gravy, sauces)
  • Canned foods (potatoes, peas, etc.)

Know Your Sodium Terms

Some products include terms related to sodium. Here are some common terms and their meanings:

  • Sodium-free – less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium – usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt – made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture state that an individual food that has the claim "healthy" must not exceed 480 mg sodium per reference amount. "Meal type" products must not exceed 600 mg sodium per labeled serving size.

Children and Salt

The taste for salt is learned. Adding less or no salt and choosing foods lower in salt can help your preschooler learn to like foods with a less salty taste. Eating less salt is an important way to help growing preschoolers stay healthy. This may reduce their risk of chronic diseases when they are adults. The recommended daily limit for sodium is less than 1,500 milligrams for children 1 to 3 years old, and less than 1,900 milligrams for children 4 to 8 years old.

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Serves 5


3 ¼ cups chicken breast, cooked, cubed, and skinless
¼ cup celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. onion powder
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise, low-fat


  1. Bake chicken, cut into cubes, and refrigerate.
  2. In a large bowl combine rest of ingredients, add chilled chicken and mix well.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories: 176, Total Fat: 6 g, Saturated Fat: 2 g, Cholesterol: 77 mg, Sodium: 120 mg, Protein: 27 g, Carbohydrate: 2 g, Calcium: 16 mg, Magnesium: 25 mg, Potassium: 236 mg, Fiber: 0 g

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Read More "Too Much Salt" Articles

Salt: Too Much of a Good Thing / Labels: For your health / Quiz: What's the buzz about salt? / Tasty Stand-Ins for Salt

Spring / Summer 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 2 Page 14