What's Your Recommended Sodium Intake?

Now that carb counting and fat phobia are over, cutting back on salt is the #1 nutrition priority. We show you how.
Photo: Randy Mayor

Salt is quickly becoming the new trans fat, the latest nutrition villain. And the odds are more than 50-50 that you're on the list of people who need to watch their salt. The government's 2011 update of the Dietary Guidelines continued to recommend 2,300mg of sodium per day for adults, but there was a huge asterisk: The level for African-Americans, people with hypertension, and anyone over the age of 51 dropped to 1,500mg. That's basically half the population. Yet the average American consumption is 3,400mg.

Why cut salt? Too much sodium can elevate blood pressure, which causes damage throughout the circulatory system, potentially leading to stroke or heart disease. Diets low in sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help lower blood pressure and keep tickers ticking.

How much do we need?

  • It varies by individual, but scientists estimate we need only 250 to 500mg per day for physiological functions like muscle contractions and nerve transmissions.

Is it easy to estimate how much salt you consume?

  • No. We did a guess-your-consumption visual test with 45 people, and most guessed they were allowed about ½ teaspoon but believed they were eating 2½ teaspoons. Point: You need to learn the numbers, and read the labels.

Where does sodium lurk?

  • Processed and restaurant foods deliver 77% in the average American diet. Only 10 to 11% is added at the table. The rest is added by cooks or occurs naturally in foods.