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Sodium Savvy

Did you know that the average American consumes about 3 1/2 pounds of sodium in one year? That is almost 10 times more than the amount required by the human body! If you are concerned about the amount of sodium in your diet, read on...

Sodium in the diet, mainly in the form of salt, is also known as sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt is a mixture of 40% sodium and 60% chloride; therefore, the words "sodium" and "salt" are not synonymous. A food product may contain little salt and still contain sources of sodium.

The human body requires about 500 mg of sodium per day, while the average American usually ingests between 2,300-6,900 mg each day. The Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Intake (ESADDI) for sodium was determined by the Committee on Dietary Allowance and the Food and Nutrition Board to be approximately 1,100-3,300 mg per day.

For most individuals, reducing dietary sodium levels to the ESADDI range simply means decreasing the amount of salt used in cooking and at the table. For example, one might omit salt in cooking, and only add salt at the table after tasting the food. Not adding any salt would be even more effective. If further sodium control is desired, one must start reading labels and become familiar with the new reduced sodium foods.

There are numerous products entering the market which can be used to help decrease the amount of sodium in one's diet. Canned soups, some snack foods, and canned vegetables are currently available in low sodium variations. When reading labels, however, be aware of the number of servings per unit. Some can be misleading if manufacturers have made the serving sizes smaller so that the amount of sodium per serving is lower.

On July 1, 1986, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established new sodium labeling regulations which required manufacturers to list the sodium content of their products whenever nutrition labeling was used. Since not all products require nutrition labels, it is possible for some high sodium products, such a snack foods and fast food items, to escape the labeling requirement. However, in this age of increasing interest in nutrition, many manufacturers are voluntarily putting sodium information on product labels.

The following is a guide to the phrases used in sodium labeling as defined by the FDA:

Sodium Free: < 5 mg sodium/serving
Very Low Sodium: &lt35 mg sodium/serving
Low Sodium: &lt140 mg sodium/serving
Reduced Sodium: 75% reduction from usual sodium content
Unsalted: No salt added during processing to a food normally salted

Salt substitution can be useful, but be sure to read the labels. True salt substitutes, such as Morton's Salt Substitute, contain no sodium and are usually made from potassium chloride. Some products, such as Lite Salt, are not true substitutes because they contain both sodium chloride and potassium chloride, and therefore are not free of sodium. One of the best sodium substitutes can be a spice mixture suited to your own taste.

There are other sources of sodium that aren't as obvious as the foods we eat. Softened water, bottled waters, medications and chewing tobacco are sources of hidden sodium.

Reducing the sodium content of one's diet can be achieved in a variety of ways, and the method is not as crucial as is actually doing it! Be aware of the amount of salt added in cooking and at the table, and consciously try to limit it. Small changes can significantly reduce sodium intake. Also, with the new lower sodium foods on the market, reducing sodium can be easier and tastier than ever!

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