Sodium is an element that the body needs to function properly.
The body uses sodium to regulate blood pressure and blood volume. Sodium is also critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves.
Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. The most common form of sodium is sodium chloride, which is table salt. Milk, beets, and celery also naturally contain sodium, as does drinking water, although the amount varies depending on the source.
Sodium is also added to various food products. Some of these added forms are monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and sodium benzoate. These are ingredients in condiments and seasonings such as Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, and bouillon cubes.
Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and ham, and canned soups and vegetables are all examples of foods that contain added sodium. Fast foods are generally very high in sodium.
Too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure in those who are sensitive to sodium. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will probably recommend that you reduce your sodium (salt) intake.
Sodium may lead to a serious build-up of fluid in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. Such people should be on a strict sodium-restricted diet, as prescribed by their doctor.
Dietary sodium is measured in milligrams (mg). Table salt is 40% sodium; 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
Healthy adults should limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day while individuals with high blood pressure should consume no more than 1,500 mg per day. Those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and kidney disease may need much lower amounts.
Specific recommendations regarding sodium intake do not exist for infants, children, and adolescents. Eating habits and attitudes about food formed during childhood are likely to influence eating habits for life. For this reason, moderate intake of sodium is suggested.
Lichtenstein AH, et al. AHA Scientific Statement. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006;114:82-96.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Dietary Guidelines for Americans -- 2005. Chapter 8: Sodium and Potassium. Accessed May 25, 2010.
Review Date: 5/26/2010
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc, and David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine.
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