How to shop to lower your salt intake

The most practical way to reduce your sodium is by altering what you bring home from the grocery store.

woman salting a pot of boiling water

Sodium is as an essential, life-sustaining ingredient. But too much of it can pose serious health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and congestive heart failure.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average person should only consume 2,300 milligrams (mg) – about one teaspoon full – or less, per day.

If you are 51 or older, are black, or already have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, then you should limit your intake to 1,500 mg or less per day, said  Jose Mejia, M.D., an ADC cardiologist.

“Unfortunately, the average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, which is far more than is recommended for good health,” he said. “Keeping the amount of sodium you eat under control can be challenging, but understanding the main dietary sources of sodium is one of the best ways to start lowering your intake.”


The food industry uses sodium extensively — as a flavor enhancer and as a preservative in everything from bread to canned soup.

“Most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants. Even fresh fruits, meats, vegetables and dairy products contain sodium,” Dr. Mejia said. “You can select lower sodium foods when possible, and you can cook more foods yourself to better control how much sodium you eat.”

Many items like baked goods, breakfast cereals, soups, and lunchmeats are very high in sodium. It may be hard to spot on the label because it goes by many names.

“Pay very close attention to food labels,” Dr. Mejia says. “It may add extra time to your shopping trip, but it’s important to understand just what the food industry means when it uses sodium-related terms. Portion size is just as important. Frankly, it’s the only way to make sure you are not eating too much sodium.”

Here are some of the most common terms used on food packaging.

  • “Sodium free” or “Salt free.”
    Each serving of this product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
  • Very low sodium.”
    Each serving contains 35 mg of sodium or less.
  • Low sodium.”
    Each serving contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
  • Reduced” or “Less sodium.”
    The product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. Check the label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
  • Lite” or “Light in sodium.”
    The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version.
  • Unsalted” or “No salt added.”
    Not salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium because some of the ingredients may be high in sodium.

The widespread use of sodium means it can be challenging to avoid, especially if you are traveling with limited food options at airports. In that case, bringing low sodium snacks is a good option. At home, consider using alternative seasonings that are sodium free. Eventually, your taste buds will adjust to the lower sodium options.

“It takes some effort, but a low sodium diet can have tremendous health benefits,” Dr. Mejia said. “If you are concerned or curious, it may be a good idea with check with your physician about the amount of sodium you are eating.”