How much sodium should you have in a day? If you’re trying to make healthier choices at mealtimes, you might be looking to cut back on your sodium intake. Everyone’s sodium needs vary, but the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day.1 But if you’re like many Americans, you may be consuming too much: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, on average!2 And while it might make food taste good, too much sodium could have a negative effect on your health. High sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.3
So if you’re wondering how much sodium per day is healthy — we’ve got you covered. Here are some common questions about sodium intake and healthy ways to cut back — without sacrificing flavor or freshness.
What is sodium?
You’ve probably seen the words “sodium” and “salt” used interchangeably, but they’re actually not the same. Sodium and chloride are the two minerals that help to create table salt, also known as sodium chloride. Sodium is naturally present in many foods, like beets, celery and milk, but it’s consumed most often through salt, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains.4 In fact, the recommended sodium intake for most adults might surprise you.
How much sodium should I have in a day?
Just keep this magic number in mind: 2,300 milligrams. Based on AHA guidelines, you should avoid eating more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day. While this might seem like a lot, this amount is about the same as one teaspoon of salt!5
And it’s not just added for flavor, salt also helps to preserve food, enhance thickness or sweetness, and balance flavor while adding intensity.6 More than 70% of the sodium that’s consumed comes from foods eaten outside of the home, one study found.7 When you think about the different foods and beverages you typically eat and drink throughout the day, the sodium total could add up pretty quickly.
Did you know? All of Jenny Craig’s menu plans adhere to the American Heart Association’s guidelines for sodium intake.
4 sneaky sodium-filled foods
A surprising number of foods are high in sodium. When in doubt, check out the nutrition label. If you’re trying to lower your sodium intake, try to steer clear of these foods, which can pack a serious sodium punch.
1. Canned entrées, like chili and ravioli
2. Canned vegetables
3. Vegetable juice
7 easy tips to reduce your sodium intake
Salt is often used to flavor and preserve food, which can make cutting back on sodium seem challenging. But there are simple ways to eat less of it — try these tips to cut down on the sodium you get at every meal.
1. Opt for fresh and frozen produce and meats, rather than canned varieties. Salt is typically added to canned goods to help extend shelf life, but some frozen produce is usually “flash-frozen” to help preserve freshness and nutritional value, making it a healthy option that doesn’t need extra salt to taste great. Just make sure to check the nutrition label to verify the sodium content.
Did you know? Jenny Craig’s simply frozen meals include produce that is picked at peak freshness and then “flash-frozen” to lock in nutrients and flavor.
2. Don’t rely solely on your taste buds. Not all high-sodium foods will taste salty! Some foods, like bread and cereal, can contain a surprising amount of sodium, but you might not notice it when you eat them.
Did you know? You can track the amount of sodium you eat by using the Nutrition Facts label.
- First, find “sodium” on the label, where the amount per serving will be listed in milligrams (mg).
- Rather than trying to add every single milligram of sodium you eat, look across the label at the %DV (%Daily Value) of sodium, which is the per-serving percentage of the recommended Daily Value that’s in the food. (Remember, the American Heart Association’s recommended Daily Value of sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day!)
- Use the %DV to know if a food is low or high in sodium. Add the %DV of the foods you eat to help you stay under 100%DV of sodium per day.
3. Know your “sodiums.” Take a look at the ingredients for ones containing the word “sodium,” Monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrite, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium benzoate all contain sodium and contribute small amounts to the total on a product’s nutrition label.6
4. Sea salt and kosher salt aren’t necessarily better than table salt. Kosher salt, table salt and most sea salts contain around 40% sodium by weight, says the AHA.8 But it’s possible for sea salt to contain less sodium than table salt — take a look at the nutrition label first.
5. Experiment with salt-free seasonings. You can purchase no-salt seasonings or make your own just as easily. Mix a variety of your favorite spices, like garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, pepper and dried mustard for a flavorful rub. Or, try squeezing fresh lemon juice over veggies or protein.
Did you know? Jenny Craig’s menu plans are created by a team of registered dietitians and nutritionists to ensure quality ingredients and meet or exceed expert nutritional guidelines.
6. Take a look at the labels. With so many ways to describe different amounts of sodium in food, labels can get a little confusing. When you’re shopping, keep these common sodium terms in mind:1
- Sodium-free — Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving; contains no sodium chloride (salt)
- Very low sodium — 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
- Low sodium — 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
- Reduced (or less) sodium — At least 25% less sodium per serving than the usual level
- Light in sodium — If sodium is reduced by at least 50% per serving
Jenny Craig has several low sodium menu items that make a delicious snack or dessert, including:
- Cranberry Almond Barscotti
- Apple Crisp
- Lemon Cookies
- Kettle Corn
- Chocolate Walnut Brownie
7. Gradually lower your sodium intake. Research suggests that slowly lessening the amount of salt you eat could change your preferences over time. In a 5-month study, researchers found that participants’ preferred level of salt in food relied on the level of salt they consumed.9 During the study, participants lowered their sodium intake and gradually changed their preferred level of salt in soup and crackers: Their perceived intensity of salt in crackers increased, while the maximum salt concentrations they enjoyed decreased over time.
Could sodium affect your weight?
Research suggests sodium-rich foods may affect how much you eat. In one study, participants ate a lunch of elbow macaroni with sauce that had varying amounts of salt. High-salt meals resulted in participants eating 11% more than when they were offered low-salt meals; they also reported the high-salt meal being more pleasant.10
Overindulging at mealtimes on a regular basis can have a negative impact on your weight loss efforts. These tips can help you get back on track!
A separate study suggests there may be a link between high sodium levels and a likelihood of being overweight. In the study, higher sodium levels in adults were associated with an increased likelihood of overweight and central obesity, compared to those with lower sodium levels.11
Being mindful of how much sodium you eat is a great first step to building better eating habits. For a more holistic approach, joining a weight loss program that adheres to sodium intake guidelines and gives you the tools you need to pursue a healthier lifestyle may give you the support you need to reach your goals.
Originally published here.
Photo by Emmy Smith on Unsplash.