To Salt or Not to Salt: Facts on Sodium

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 proper sodium/water balance, excess sodium is removed via the kidneys. Salt contains sodium.

Where Does Sodium in Our Diet Come From?

  • Processed or prepared foods – 77%
  • Salt we add to food during cooking (baking soda and some seasonings) – 6%
  • Salt we add while eating (condiments) – 6%
  • Natural sources (some prescription drugs & over-the-counter drugs) – 12%

You can find the amount of sodium in your food by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams (or mg).

The total sodium shown on the Nutrition Facts label includes the sodium from salt, plus the sodium from any other sodium-containing ingredient in the product. For example, this includes ingredients like broth, brine, sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium benzoate. Check the ingredient list for words like “sodium,” “salt” and “baking soda” (sodium bicarbonate).

Remember to take note of the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label. If your portion size equals two servings of a product, you’re actually eating double the sodium listed.

Ways To Decrease Your Sodium Intake

  • Cut back on cured, pickled, and processed foods
  • Taste your food before adding salt
  • Remove the salt shaker from your table and try a “sodium free” herbal blend
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables without added salt
  • Choose fresh or frozen fish, shellfish, poultry and meat more often than canned or processed forms
  • Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are low in sodium
  • Buy products low in sodium, MSG, baking soda and other sodium-containing compounds
  • Choose foods labeled “low sodium”, “reduced sodium” or “sodium free”
  • Rinse canned vegetables (not low sodium) to remove up to 40% of the sodium
  • Take note of the sodium content of your favorite condiments, particularly meat tenderizer, steak sauce, soy sauce, salsa, and ketchup

How Much Sodium Should We Have?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure. Even cutting back by 1,000 mg a day can improve blood pressure and heart health. To help you shop smarter, be sure to read food labels. Check the sodium content per serving. A good rule to follow is to keep the sodium level at half or less than the calories per serving.

What Are Other Salt Substitutes?

There are many salt substitutes on the market today to choose from. But let’s not forget the use of other herbs and spices that do not contain sodium that are equally as tasty and will expand your palette for new flavors. Listed below are a few basic seasoning combinations you may enjoy.


Basic Seasoning Combinations

Italian Dishes (tomato sauces): marjoram, garlic, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, thyme

Salt Substitute: basil, celery seed, curry powder, dulse or kelp (seaweed, powdered), parsley, tarragon, plus small amounts of sage, oregano, thyme, lemon peel

Soup Stock: basil, marjoram, parsley, sage, thyme, bay leaf

Salad Dressing Mix: basil, celery seed, chervil, dill, marjoram, parsley

For Rice: turmeric, marjoram, curry powder

For Beans in general: mustard, savory, bay leaf, chili pepper

Garbanzo Beans: cayenne, garlic, parsley, cumin

Lima Beans: sage, savory

Potatoes: parsley, chives, oregano, rosemary, paprika, savory, tarragon

Tomatoes: basil, bay leaf, rosemary, oregano, garlic, celery seed

Cauliflower: caraway, dill, oregano, basil, garlic, savory, tarragon, lemon juice, curry powder

Cabbage: dill, caraway

Asparagus: lemon juice, tarragon

Zucchini: garlic, basil, marjoram


Websites to Check Out

Salt-free Spice Blends:

Low Sodium Recipes:

American Heart Association:  click on Heart and Stroke Encyclopedia. S for Sodium

To salt or not to salt is up to you. With this information and options, however, you will now know how to cut back if you choose to change your salt habits. Have fun experimenting!

Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: She will look forward to meeting you!