Sodium and blood pressure


Ordinary table salt is actually sodium chloride (and, to be specific, contains 40 percent sodium by weight). When we talk about amounts of sodium, it’s helpful to know how that’s measured. Most often, sodium is measured in grams and milligrams. A gram is a unit of weight. There are about 28 grams in 1 ounce. There are 5.5 grams in a teaspoon. If you divide 1 gram into 1,000 parts, each part is a milligram (mg), or 1,000 milligrams equals 1 gram.

Sodium is essential for good health. You must have a certain balance of sodium and water in your body’s fluids and tissues at all times. Sodium and water work together to maintain this balance. A certain amount of salt maintains the right amount of water in the body, and vice-versa. Too much salt or too much water will upset the balance. In healthy people, excess sodium is eliminated through the kidneys, and the correct balance of sodium and water is maintained.

Why follow a low-sodium diet?

The average American consumes between 6 and 18 grams of salt daily – roughly the equivalent of three teaspoons. Your body actually requires only about 0.5 grams of salt, or 0.20 grams of sodium, each day. Reducing the amount of sodium you consume may help avoid high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are the leading cause of death in the United States.

Sources of sodium

Most foods in their natural state contain sodium. However, most of the sodium in our diet is added to food during commercial processing and home preparation. Therefore, when selecting foods to limit your sodium intake, you must be aware of both natural and added sodium content. When purchasing prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods. When these compounds are listed on food labels, it indicates the presence of added sodium. Watch for the words soda and sodium and the symbol Na on labels, as these identify products that contain sodium compounds.

Sodium compounds: Avoid or use sparingly?

Be careful to limit your intake of the first four items on the list below, and be cautious about your use of the rest.

  1. Salt (sodium chloride): Used in cooking or at the table; also used in canning and preserving.
  2. Monosodium (also called MSG): A seasoning used in home and restaurant cooking, and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods.
  3. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; also used as an alkalizer for indigestion.
  4. Baking powder: Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.
  5. Disodium: Present in some quick-cooking cereals and processed cheeses.
  6. Sodium alginate: Used in many chocolates, milks and ice creams to make a
    smooth mixture.
  7. Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in many condiments such as relishes, sauces and salad dressings.
  8. Sodium hydroxide: Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe hydroxide olives and certain fruits and vegetables.
  9. Sodium nitrate: Used in cured meats and sausages.
  10. Sodium propionate: Used in pasteurized cheese and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds.
  11. Sodium sulfite: Used to bleach certain fruits, such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are artificially colored; also used as a preservative in some dried fruits, such as prunes.

Dining out

Americans eat a greater number of meals away from home than in previous years. Controlling sodium intake need not spoil the pleasure of a restaurant meal, but you will have to be selective in ordering. Consider these tips for meals away from home:

  1. Don’t use the salt shaker; use the peppershaker or mill to reduce the amount of salt that goes onto your food.
  2. Be familiar with the list of low-sodium foods in this booklet and make your restaurant selections from these items.
  3. When you order, be specific about what you want and how you want your food prepared. Request that they prepare your dish without salt.


Over-the-counter drugs

Some drugs contain large amounts of sodium. Make it a practice to carefully read the labels on all over-the-counter drugs. Look at the ingredients and any warnings to see if sodium is included. A statement of sodium content must appear on labels of antacids containing 5 milligrams or more per dosage unit (tablet, teaspoon). Some companies are now producing low-sodium over-the-counter products. If in doubt, ask your physician or pharmacist if the drug is appropriate for you.

Prescription drugs

Consumers have no way of knowing whether a prescription drug contains sodium. Ask your physician or pharmacist about the sodium content of prescription drugs.