Sodium

The body needs a small amount of sodium to function, but most Americans consume too much sodium. High sodium consumption can raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.1 Most of the sodium we consume is in the form of salt.

How does salt affect blood pressure?

  • Research shows a strong relationship between the amount of salt consumed and raised levels of blood pressure.1
  • When salt intake is reduced, blood pressure begins falling within weeks in most people.3
  • In countries where people consume diets low in salt, people do not experience the increase in blood pressure with age that is seen in most Western countries.1
  • Reducing sodium intake lowers blood pressure, with greater effects among people with hypertension.4*

Is it salt or sodium?

  • Sodium chloride is the chemical name for salt.1
  • Ninety percent of the sodium we consume is in the form of salt.1
  • The words salt and sodium are not exactly the same, yet these words are often used interchangeably. For example, the Nutrition Facts Panel on foods in the grocery store uses “sodium,” while the front of the package may say “no salt added” or “unsalted.”5

Facts About Sodium Consumption and Sodium in Our Food Supply

  • The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day as part of a healthy eating pattern.6
  • About 90% of Americans 2 years old or older consume too much sodium.7
  • The average daily sodium intake for Americans 2 years old or older is more than 3,400 mg.8
  • Americans are consuming substantially more sodium than in the 1970s. Since 2010, some manufacturers have reduced sodium in some foods, and the amount of sodium consumed has decreased slightly in some groups of people.7,9
  • About 70% of sodium consumed is from processed and restaurant foods. Only a small portion of sodium or salt is used in cooking or added at the table.10
  • Because sodium is already in processed and restaurant foods when they are purchased, reducing personal sodium intake can be hard, even for motivated people.11
  • Sodium content can vary across the same types of foods by brand. For example, a slice of frozen cheese pizza can have between 370 mg and 730 mg of sodium; a cheeseburger from a fast food restaurant can have between 710 mg and 1,690 mg.12
  • Sodium information currently is not always readily available for restaurant or prepared foods and can be hard for the consumer to estimate.

Reducing Sodium and Reducing Cardiovascular Disease Burden

  • Lowering high blood pressure reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.13 Adults with elevated and high blood pressure especially benefit from lowering their blood pressure.6
  • If manufacturers gradually reduced the amount of sodium in processed and prepared foods, public consumption of sodium could be reduced to safer levels with little or no change in behavior on the part of the individual consumer.14
  • Sodium intake from processed and restaurant foods contributes to high rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Because nearly 500,000 deaths each year are related to high blood pressure, reducing sodium intake could prevent thousands of deaths annually.15
  • Reducing average population sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day may save $18 billion in health care dollars and reduce cases of high blood pressure by 11 million annually.16
  • Sodium reduction continues to be an effective and safe strategy to lower blood pressure.3,11,17,18
  • Lowering blood pressure reduces and prevents heart attacks and stroke.19
  • Hypertension is having blood pressure that is consistently high. Learn more about how elevated and high blood pressure are defined.

References

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25353.
  2. Xu J, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, Arias E. Mortality in the United States, 2015. NCHS data brief, no. 267 pdf icon[PDF – 274 KB]. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2016.
  3. He FJ, Li J, MacGregor GA. Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressureexternal icon. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(4):CD004937.
  4. Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, de Jesus JM, Miller NH, Hubbard VS, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelinesexternal icon. Circulation. 2014;129 (25 Suppl 2):S76–99.
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sodium in Your Diet: Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce Your Intakeexternal icon. Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 2016. Accessed August 31, 2017.
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal icon. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2015. Accessed August 31, 2017.
  7. Jackson SL, Coleman King SM, Zhao L, Cogswell ME. Prevalence of sodium intake in the United Statesexternal icon. MMWR. 2016;64(52):1394–7.
  8. Cogswell ME, Loria CM, Terry AL, Zhao L, Wang CY, Chen TC, et al. Estimated 24-hour urinary sodium and potassium excretion in US adults. 2018;319(12):1209–1220.
  9. Briefel R, Johnson C. Secular trends in dietary intake in the United Statesexternal icon. Annu Rev Nutr. 2004;24:401–31.
  10. Harnack LI, Cogswell ME, Shikany JM, Gardner CD, Gillespie C, Loria CM, et al. Sources of sodium in U.S. adults from 3 geographic regionsexternal icon. Circulation. 2017;135(19):1775–83.
  11. Adler AJ, Taylor F, Martin N, Gottlieb S, Taylor RS, Ebrahim S. Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular diseaseexternal icon. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(12):CD009217.
  12. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Release 28external icon. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2016. Accessed August 31, 2017.
  13. American Heart Association. Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressureexternal icon. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association; 2017. Accessed August 31, 2017.
  14. Institute of Medicine. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United Statesexternal icon. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2010.
  15. Farley TA, Dalal MA, Mostashari F, Frieden TR. Deaths preventable in the U.S. by improvements in use of clinical preventive services. Am J Prev Med. 2010;38(6):600–609.
  16. Palar K, Sturm R. Potential societal savings from reduced sodium consumption in the U.S. adult populationexternal icon. Am J Health Promot. 2009;24(1):49–57.
  17. Aburto NJ, Ziolkovska A, Hooper L, Elliot P, Cappuccio FP, Meerpohl JJ. Effect of lower sodium intake on health: Systematic review and meta-analysisexternal icon. BMJ. 2013;346:f1326.
  18. Aburto NJ, Das S. Effect of Reduced Sodium Intake on Blood Pressure, Renal Function, Blood Lipids and Other Potential Adverse Effects. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2012.
  19. Cogswell ME, Mugavero K, Bowman BA, Frieden TR. Dietary sodium and cardiovascular disease risk—measurement mattersexternal icon. N Engl J Med. 2016;375(6):580–6.