Sodium: Hidden Sources

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Harvard Medical School
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Sodium: Hidden Sources

High Blood Pressure
Sodium: Hidden Sources
Sodium: Hidden Sources
Salt that can wound some.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Sodium: Hidden Sources

Limiting the amount of salt, or sodium, in your diet is important if you have high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or fluid retention that causes leg swelling (edema). Some people are genetically more likely to hold sodium in the body after eating foods with salt. Everyone with high blood pressure should reduce salt consumption because this lowers blood pressure and allows some of the most common blood pressure medicines to work better.

Some experts believe that the higher intake of salt in Western countries like the United States is one reason high blood pressure is so common here as compared with the rest of the world. Too much sodium allows the body to retain fluid, which increases the amount of fluid pumped by the heart and circulating in the bloodstream. This makes he heart work harder. This is why high sodium diets can be harmful to people with congestive heart failure. The excess fluid can back up into the lungs, causing congestion, coughing and difficulty breathing.

The average American consumes about 4,000 milligrams or more of sodium a day. The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 milligrams as the upper limit, even if you have no signs of heart disease. Most people with high blood pressure should limit their sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day — or less, according to some experts. For some people with congestive heart failure, a total sodium intake of less than 1,000 milligrams per day may be helpful, although this diet is challenging to maintain.

Learn The Hidden Sources

Table salt (sodium chloride) is the most obvious source of sodium in your diet. Just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 milligrams of sodium, which is just a little less than the entire amount you should have in one day. The salt you add when cooking or at the table is only part of your total sodium intake. Even natural foods such as milk, meat and vegetables contain sodium. A cup of milk contains 375 milligrams of sodium. A half-cup of cottage cheese has 475 milligrams. A glass of tomato juice has 441 milligrams. The amount of sodium is listed on every food label.

Eat More Potassium

Potassium helps to lower blood pressure, so eat more potassium. This doesn't mean that if you eat bananas, potatoes and other high-potassium foods, you can eat foods high in sodium more freely. Unless you have kidney disease, you should eat about 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day. A baked potato has 875 milligrams. A glass of prune juice has 704. A cup of yogurt has 578.

Can the Cans

Canned and pre-packed foods tend to be higher in sodium than their fresh counterparts. This is especially true of soups, frozen dinners and other convenience foods, as well as dehydrated powders for making sauces and salad dressings. Other foods high in sodium include:

  • Soy sauce
  • Catsup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Chili sauce
  • Mustard
  • Pickles and relishes
  • Olives
  • Processed cheese and cheese spread
  • Baking powder, baking soda and most baked goods, which contain these ingredients
  • Canned or frozen vegetables in sauce
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Frankfurters, cured ham, sausages and luncheon meats
  • Salted nuts, chips and other snack foods
  • Any food additive with the word "sodium" (sodium benzoate, a preservative; sodium phosphate, an emulsifier and stabilizer)

What About Salt Substitutes?

If your doctor told you to lower your sodium intake, you may try a salt substitute. This may be helpful, but keep this in mind:

  • Some salt substitutes contain a mixture of salt and other compounds. To get that familiar salty taste, you may end up using more salt substitute and not reducing your sodium intake at all.
  • Potassium chloride is a common ingredient in salt substitutes. Too much potassium can be harmful for people with kidney problems. Extra potassium may be hazardous when people with high blood pressure or heart failure take certain medications that may cause the kidneys to retain potassium. (Potassium-based salt substitutes have a bitter taste if they are cooked.)

Instead of salt or salt substitutes, to to enhance the flavor of food by using herbs and spices, flavored vinegars or lemon juice.


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sodium,potassium,high blood pressure,fluid,heart,blood pressure,congestive heart failure,diet
Last updated February 08, 2012

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