Sodium and Heart Health

Posted on February 23, 2011


By Kate Callahan, Dietetic Intern and Kathy Cunningham. Med, RD, LDN, Senior Program Manager Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Division, Boston Public Health Commission

Sodium has recently become a major public health issue and it is hard to ignore all of the media attention this nutrient has gotten in the last several months. You may be wondering what all of the hype is about and how it relates to you. Most Americans are consuming much more sodium than recommended. A high-sodium diet can lead to an increase in blood pressure and put you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Besides a balanced diet and regular physical activity, reducing the amount of sodium in your diet can help you lower or prevent high blood pressure. February is American Heart Month, so why not start to work towards a healthier heart today?

Basic Facts

  • Most Americans eat almost twice the recommended amount of salt each day
  • The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium intake to 2,300mg per day
  • 1,500mg per day is recommended for children, people over the age of 51, and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
  • Only 11% of the sodium in our diets comes from our own saltshakers; the majority (79%) of sodium that Americans consume comes from sodium added to processed foods by manufacturers.
  • Major food sources of sodium include canned soups, sauces, packaged bread, frozen entrees, and processed deli meat.

What can you do to reduce your sodium intake?

There is no question that salt adds flavor to foods but there are many easy ways to cut back on your sodium consumption without sacrificing taste. Follow these steps to reduce your sodium intake:

  • Find out how much sodium is in the food you eat. Read nutrition labels of prepared and packaged foods for sodium content. The amount of sodium in one serving of the food is listed in milligrams (mg). Look for the “% Daily Value” to see what percentage of the daily recommended sodium this item contains. The % DV should be less than 20% per serving. 
  • Don’t add extra salt to the food you eat. Just one (1) teaspoon of table salt equals 2,300 mg sodium, the maximum amount of sodium recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.
  • Use sodium-free flavorings as an alternative to salt. Most spices naturally contain very small amounts of sodium and can significantly enhance the taste of your food.  Try adding tomatoes and basil to chicken or fresh lemon juice to fish and vegetables.
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned food items without added salts.
  • Select unsalted, lower sodium, fat-free broths, bouillons or soups.

National Movement to Reduce Sodium in the Nation’s Food Supply

The Boston Public Health Commission is a member of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI). This partnership of over 65 state and local organizations is coordinated by the New York City (NYC) Department of Health.  Its goal is to reduce Americans’ sodium intake by 20% over five years by collaborating with food manufacturers to identify strategies to reduce the amount of sodium in packaged and restaurant food.  Twenty-two national food companies and supermarkets have already committed to reduce sodium levels in their products.  

For More Information

For more information about sodium and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association website at