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Reducing the Sodium in Your Diet

Have you been instructed to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet? You aren’t alone. Many Americans are becoming sodium conscious. In the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services recommend that we choose and prepare foods with less salt.

WHAT IS SODIUM?
Sodium is a mineral needed by the human body for regulation of fluid balance, contraction of muscles and conduction of nerve impulses. To maintain the sodium/water balance, excess sodium is removed via the kidneys. Table salt contains sodium. One teaspoon of salt contains 2000 mg of sodium.

WHERE DOES SODIUM IN OUR DIET COME FROM?
The major sources of sodium in our diets are processed, prepared foods and the salt we add to food during cooking or at meals. Sodium also comes from a variety of other sources. Baking soda, some seasonings, antacids, and condiments can contain large amounts of sodium. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs also contain sodium. Reading food and medication labels prior to purchase will help you make low sodium choices.

WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO FOLLOW A LOWER-SODIUM EATING PATTERN?
The human adult needs 500 to 1000 milligrams of sodium per day. Try to consume less than 2300 mg. of sodium per day and consume more potassium-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. The average American consumes 2,500 to 5,000 milligrams per day. Reducing sodium in the diet may reduce high blood pressure in some people. This in turn can decrease the likelihood of heart or kidney disease and stroke. A low-sodium diet may need to be combined with weight loss and exercise or medication to decrease blood pressure.

Taste for salt is acquired. Like drinking diet soft drinks and decreasing use of sugar, taste for salt can be relearned. By cutting down on salt use gradually, the taste buds have time to adjust.

WAYS TO DECREASE YOUR SODIUM INTAKE
The best way to cut back on sodium is to cut back on salt and salty foods and seasonings. When reading a Nutrition Facts Label, look for the sodium content.

Additionally:

WHAT DO FOOD LABELS TELL US?
Do the terms “sodium” or “salt” appear on the front of the food label? If so, here’s what the descriptions mean. For the specific sodium content in a serving, check the Nutrition Facts panel.

LABEL TERM MEANS EXAMPLES of FOODS
Sodium free Less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving Crackers
Very low sodium 35 milligrams or less sodium per serving Chips
Low sodium 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving Soup, cereal, crackers
Reduced or less sodium  At least 25% less sodium* Soy sauce, soup, bacon, pretzels, crackers
Light in sodium 50% less sodium*; restricted to foods with more than 40 calories per serving or more that 3 grams fat per serving Crackers
Salt free Less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving Herb blends
Low sodium meal 140 milligrams or less sodium per 100 grams Frozen dinner
Unsalted or no added No salt added during processing; does not necessarily mean sodium free Peanuts, butter, canned vegetable, microwave popcorn, crackers, breakfast cereals

*as compared with a standard serving size of the traditional food

Reference
American Dietetic Association, Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, RL Duyff. (3rd edition). 2006.


If you are a registered University of Illinois student and you have questions or concerns,
or need to make an appointment, please call: Dial-A-Nurse at 333-2700

 

If you are concerned about any difference in your treatment plan and the information in this handout,

you are advised to contact your health care provider.

 

Visit the McKinley Health Center Web site at: http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu


HEd. III-172

© The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2008.

03-26-08

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