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Sodium and Potassium

Health Facts about Sodium

Nearly all Americans eat too much salt (sodium). Most of the salt comes from eating processed foods (75%), or adding salt to food while cooking and using the salt shaker at meals (5% to 10%). On average, the more salt a person eats, the higher his or her blood pressure. Eating less salt is an important way to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which may in turn reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney damage. To reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, eat less processed food and use less salt while cooking and at the table.

Other lifestyle changes may prevent or delay getting high blood pressure and may help lower elevated blood pressure. These include eating more potassium-rich foods, losing excess weight, being more physically active, eating a healthy diet, and limiting alcoholic beverages, if you choose to drink them.

Did you know that sodium and potassium both impact blood pressure? A diet rich in potassium helps to counterbalance some of sodium's harmful effects on blood pressure.

You should get no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.
Some people should get less.

Below are some tips for Eating Less Salt

  • When you're choosing packaged foods, check the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label. Use the percent Daily Value (% DV) to help limit your sodium intake — 5% DV or less is low and 20% DV or more is high. You don't want to exceed a total of 100% DV for sodium from all foods in a day. For some people (refer to specific populations section), you don't want to exceed about 65% DV.

  • Compare sodium content for similar foods. This can really make a difference. The table on the next page shows you examples of how you can reduce the amount of sodium you eat by choosing another brand of the same food. Use the Nutrition Facts label to select brands that are lower in sodium.

  • Use the claims on the front of the food package to quickly identify foods that contain less salt or that are a good source of potassium, a nutrient you want to get more of in your daily diet. Examples include "low in sodium," "very low sodium," and "high in potassium."

  • When you're preparing food at home, use herbs and spices to add flavor to your foods, so you don't depend too heavily on salt. Don't salt foods before or during cooking and limit use at the table.

  • When you're eating out, ask that your meal be prepared without salt, or ask the server to identify menu items made without salt.

If you follow these tips for awhile, your taste for salt will decrease and you won't miss it.

When buying packaged food, use the Nutrition Facts label to check potassium content. Use the % DV to look for foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium — which counteracts some of sodium's effects on blood pressure. NOTE: Potassium is not always found on the label.

Population Groups with High Risk for Heart Attack

Some people should get no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day, and should meet the potassium recommendation through foods. These are:

  • People with high blood pressure
  • African-Americans/blacks
  • People who are middle-aged or older

Ways to Get Enough Potassium Each Day

Potassium-containing food sources include leafy greens, such as spinach and collards; fruit from vines, such as grapes and blackberries; root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes; and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit. More specific examples are listed on the Food Sources of Potassium table on the next page. Adults should aim to consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium from food and beverages each day.