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What's the difference between low sodium, reduced sodium, and unsalted?   

Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
March 06, 2018

If you’re watching your salt intake, you know that understanding sodium on food labels can be confusing. Reduced sodium soy sauce or unsalted pretzels sound like healthier choices, but what do these terms actually mean? 

Is low sodium the same as reduced sodium? And does unsalted mean salt-free? When some products that sound like they’re lower in sodium may still pack substantial amounts, a trip to the grocery store can quickly turn overwhelming

Skip the stress—and keep your sodium levels in check—by using this easy cheat sheet. We'll show you how to read sodium content on labels, so you can shop the grocery store aisles with confidence. 

Low Sodium 

“Low sodium,” “very low sodium,” and “salt- or sodium-free” on food labels translate to less than 140, 35, and 5mg per serving, respectively. These front-of-the-package claims can help you spot legit lighter-sodium products at the supermarket—look for low sodium chicken broth, low sodium canned beans, low sodium bread, and low sodium soy sauce.

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Unsalted

You also may see the phrase “no salt added.” However, neither term means that the product is naturally sodium-free. Everyday healthy picks like milk, shrimp, and chard all naturally have more than 100 mg per serving. Common unsalted foods include unsalted butter, unsalted nuts, unsalted crackers, and unsalted pretzels.

We find out whether veggie chips are even made with real vegetables.

Reduced Sodium

These foods have at least 25% less sodium than their original version. “Light in sodium” or “lightly salted” items are reduced by 50%. Unlike low sodium foods, reduced sodium foods can still be swimming in sodium. (One reduced-sodium soup we saw packs 660 mg per serving!) Keep an eye out for reduced sodium soups, reduced sodium chicken stock, or reduced sodium rice mixes—but always check the nutrition facts to be sure you're making a healthy choice.

RELATED: Are Sodium Recommendations Too Stringent?

Sodium Bicarbonate 

Also known as baking soda, this is just one sodium synonym you’ll find in ingredient lists. Others include monosodium glutamate (MSG), fleur de sel, disodium, trisodium, and, of course, sodium and salt.

Nutrition Analysis

The very best way to size up a food’s sodium is by scouting out the numbers on the Nutrition Facts label. Bear in mind this figure is the amount of sodium per serving, not necessarily the entire package, so make sure to check the serving size first.