Sodium is an electrolyte and a mineral the body uses to control blood pressure and blood volume. It helps to keep the water and electrolyte balance of the body. Sodium is also needed to make the muscles and nerves work properly.

Sodium is found in most foods. The most common form is sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt. It is also found in drinking water. The source of the water determines the amount of sodium in the water.

Many medicines and other products have sodium in them including laxatives, aspirin, mouthwash and toothpaste.

There are different forms of sodium that are added to foods. When trying to limit your sodium intake, look for these names on food packaging:

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Sodium Nitrite
  • Sodium Saccharin
  • Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Sodium Benzoate

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


Too much sodium (hypernatremia) can lead to high blood pressure and a serious buildup of fluid in people with congestive heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver or kidney disease.

Low sodium levels (hyponatremia) are uncommon but can be caused by:

  • Heart Failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Sweating
  • Burns
  • Severe vomiting/diarrhea
  • Drinking too much water
  • Underactive adrenal/thyroid glands
  • Kidney disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • SIADH (Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion)

How Much?

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.

According to the American Heart Association:

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Check the labels to help you achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 mg a day.
Here are sodium-related terms you may find on food packages:

Sodium-Free Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium choloride  Nutrition Label with Sodium Level Highlighted
Very Low Sodium 35 milligrams or less per serving
 Low-Sodium 140 milligrams or less per serving
Reduced (or less) sodium At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
Light (for sodium-reduced products) If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
Light in sodium If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving




“Sodium in Diet: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015.

“Sodium (Na) in Blood.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015.

“About Sodium (Salt).” About Sodium (Salt). American Heart Association, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015.



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