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Healthy Eating: Eating Less Sodium

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Part of healthy eating is eating less sodium, or salt.

Does this sound hard?

It doesn't have to be, but you do have to think about it. You need to do more than just not use the salt shaker. After all, almost all foods contain sodium naturally or as an ingredient.

You can start reducing the sodium in your diet by:

  • Reading labels to see how much sodium foods contain.
  • Limiting packaged foods and restaurant foods, which typically are high in sodium.
  • Not adding salt to your food during cooking or at the table.
  • Using low-sodium spices and sauces to add flavor to your food. Low-sodium foods can still be tasty!

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For good health, less is best. Most people shouldn't eat more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.1

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, if you are African-American, or if you are older than age 50, try to limit the amount of sodium you eat to less than 1,500 mg a day.1

Your doctor also may have suggested that you limit your salt to a certain amount every day.

Test Your Knowledge

The recommendation for sodium in adults never changes.


Some people wonder why they need to cut back on sodium. And that's a good question.

You may not be able to see or feel how sodium affects your body. If anything, you can taste what sodium does, and for many of us, it tastes good.

But by limiting sodium, you may be able to control blood pressure. High blood pressure can be dangerous. It has no symptoms, so you might not know you have it. And high blood pressure can lead to more serious problems, like a heart attack or stroke.

Test Your Knowledge

Eating less sodium can help control blood pressure.


Getting started

  • Talk with your doctor about sodium. You'll learn how eating too much sodium may affect you and how much you may need to cut back. Have questions ready to ask.
  • Talk with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD can help you find out how much salt you are eating and find ways to cut back on salt. An RD can also teach you how to choose low-salt foods when eating out and make suggestions for low-sodium recipes and meals.
  • Remember that the biggest source of sodium in the diet is not salt added at the table. In general, the biggest source of sodium is processed foods and foods from restaurants. Processed foods include canned foods, frozen dinners, and packaged foods such as crackers and chips. They also include dry mixes, such as those you add to hamburger or noodles.
  • If you'd like, keep a sodium record. It can show you how much sodium you eat at a meal or during the day. If you have heart failure, use a record that allows you to also record your weightClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).
  • If you don't cook for yourself, let those who help you know that you want to eat less sodium. Show this information to family members, friends, or senior centers or other organizations.

Avoid high-sodium foods

Try not to eat high-sodium foods. These include:

  • Smoked, cured, salted, and canned meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Ham, bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats.
  • Hard and processed cheese and some types of peanut butter.
  • Frozen prepared meals.
  • Canned vegetables and soups, broths, and bouillon.
  • Salted snack foods, such as chips and crackers.
  • Pickles, sauerkraut, seasonings high in salt, and other condiments. These include steak sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, mustard, ketchup, and especially soy sauce. Even light soy sauce is still very high in sodium.
  • Most restaurant food, especially fast food like french fries, hamburgers, pizza, and tacos.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out

Cook with less sodium

  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables (or frozen vegetables) and fresh meat. These contain less sodium than canned foods or meats like lunch meat, bacon, ham, and jerky.
  • Pick dairy products that are lower in salt, such as milk and yogurt instead of cheese.
  • If you use canned vegetables, drain and rinse them with fresh water. This removes some—but not all—of the salt. Or choose "no salt added" canned vegetables.
  • Flavor your food with garlic, lemon juice, onion, vinegar, herbs, and spices instead of salt. Make your own salt-free seasoning, salad dressings, sauces, and ketchup without adding salt.
  • Take the salt shaker off the table to avoid adding salt to your food. Try using half the salt a recipe calls for.
  • Don't cook with (or drink) softened water.
  • Try a low-sodium cookbook. It can be a big help if you aren't sure how to reduce the salt in your cooking.

Know how to find sodium

If you know how much sodium is in foods, you can have more flexibility in what you eat. If you eat one high-sodium food, you can balance it with very low-sodium foods during the rest of the day. To do this:

Test Your Knowledge

In general, the biggest source of sodium in our diets is:

Salt added at the table
Processed foods and foods from restaurants
Salt added in cooking

Now that you have read this information, you can begin to cut down on the sodium in your diet.

Talk with your doctor (family doctor, dietitian, or nurse).

If you would like more information on the sodium content of foods, how to limit sodium, or how to follow a diet for heart failure, the following resources are available:


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address:

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online:

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last RevisedJuly 12, 2012

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