How much sodium per day is healthy?

I’ve often wondered if the government is right in telling me I need to cut back on sodium, so in this article I am going to discover how much sodium per day is healthy, as well as how much is too much.

We all know that a lot of the old advice we’ve gotten from “the experts” is false, such as with saturated fat and cholesterol in food. It seems that with sodium, however, they are partly correct.

A picture of How Much Sodium Per Day

The dead sea has so much salt that animals can't live in it .. hence the name

What does sodium do in the body?

Sodium is an essential mineral, and we can not live without it. It is required to transmit nerve impulses, and helps to maintain fluid balance in the body.

Another mineral that has to be mentioned too is potassium, but these two minerals maintain the electrical activity in all of the body’s cells. Therefore it might be a good idea not to focus on sodium per se, but the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet.

The problem is that the modern diet simply has too much sodium, and sodium can contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure) in excessive amounts. It has never been proven though that there is any reason whatsoever for otherwise healthy people to reduce sodium or salt intake.

Where do we get sodium?

A lot of foods contain natural amounts of sodium, but these are not the ones to worry about in my opinion.

The source that we need to be concerned with is processed food, but these may contribute to up to 75% of the sodium in our diet (1).

We also get a lot of sodium when we add salt to our meals, but table salt consists of both sodium (40% of weight) and chloride (60% of weight). I’m definitely not saying that you can’t salt your meals, but moderation is the key here.

How much sodium per day is healthy?

I really hate giving out specific percentages or numbers on diet and health. I hold the opinion that people shouldn’t have to use calculators or math formulas to be healthy.

That being said, these are the Dietary Reference Intakes for sodium for a healthy 25 year old male (2):

  • RDA/AI: 1500mg. Enough to support all physical functions.
  • UL: 2400mg. Tolerable upper intake level.

Apparently the average American consumes about 3.500 milligrams of sodium per day.

The upper level recommended (2400mg sodium) equals about 6 grams of salt per day. This is approximately one level teaspoon per day.

Too much sodium

The main problem with excessive sodium in the diet is the fact that it can increase water retention and elevate blood pressure, one of those things that tends to happen with age and increase our chances of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.

One analysis of two large trials showed that reducing sodium intake can cut chances of cardiovascular disease by 25% (3), while another analysis showed that neither potassium nor sodium could predict outcomes, that only the ratio of sodium to potassium was correlated with cardiovascular disease (4).

Please note that these trials were done in patients who already had symptoms of high blood pressure, there may be no need for healthy people to reduce salt intake in any way.

Conclusion

I do NOT recommend that you go out of your way to weigh all the salt you eat. That is too complicated and unlikely to be sustainable in the long run and the exact number on how much sodium per day you consume is not important.

I recommend following these three simple rules to make sure you don’t harm yourself by eating too much sodium (if you’re a healthy person with normal blood pressure then you can ignore this):

  • Eat as little processed foods as you can.
  • If you want, put some salt on your meals, just make sure not to overdo it.
  • Eat a variety of high-potassium plant foods such as fruit and vegetables.

Eating healthy and exercising probably have a much bigger effect than sodium on your blood pressure. Getting plenty of quality sleep and avoiding major causes of stress is important too.


 

13 Comments

  1. Anthony Payne says:

    RDA/AI: 1500mg. Enough to support all physical functions.
    UL: 2400mg. Tolerable upper intake level.

    How much salt per day? The average reading level in the U.S. is eight grade; therefore, how many Americans who read your article do you think know how much is1500 or 2400mg? Everyone is SO anxious to make their presence felt on the web. Obviously, it never ONCE occurred to you to give your readers a practical real world measure, something that they can relate to.

  2. Hello Anthony,

    I’m European so me and everyone around me knows how much 1500 or 2400mg is, because we use the metric system.

    But you are right. A lot of Americans read this article so I have updated it with the new information, but 2400mg of sodium equals about 1 level teaspoon of salt.

    Thanks for pointing this out, but giving my readers information they can use is very important to me.

  3. Kris, Thanks for the info. Americans are actually just fine working in mg. Food labels express sodium content perfectly clearly in mg.

    Anthony: The world doesn’t revolve around America but, even if it did, try reading your food labels…

  4. Anthony:

    Maybe you should go back and try to get your 8th grade diploma instead of insulting Kris for information that was already included in his artical…..If I think back from my schooling here in America….I think we learned about the metric system and how to read food lables in 6th grade Health class…..soooo….maybe 6th grade is where you need to set your sights!! Good Luck!

  5. I have two college degree’s and it was pretty clear to me that the advice given here was for a 25 year old male, not for everyone. So, it wasn’t established “how much sodium per day is healthy” for everyone.
    “That being said, these are the Dietary Reference Intakes for sodium for a healthy 25 year old male (2):

    RDA/AI: 1500mg. Enough to support all physical functions.
    UL: 2400mg. Tolerable upper intake level.”

    A quick search from Google brought me to Mayoclinic.com, who states that, “The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.”

    Colorado State University Extension states, “Under ideal conditions, the minimum sodium requirement is about 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. This is less than 1 teaspoon of table salt. The maximum recommended level of sodium intake is 2,300 mg per day.”

    About every site I checked states the same numbers.
    http://www.loseit.com has a chart you can reference if you input your daily food intake and charts your nutrients for you so you can check daily or weekly summaries to see if you’re keeping within healthy guidelines on sodium, fats, proteins, fiber, etc.
    You don’t have to want to lose weight to use the site, you can use it for this particular reason.

    The best way to avoid excess sodium is to just stop or limit processed foods, which are horrible for the human body. If you can’t go out and pick it and eat it or hunt it and eat it, it’s not a good food.

    Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you’re sensitive to the effects of sodium. If you aren’t sure how much sodium your diet should include, talk to your doctor.

    • I don’t think there is any evidence that healthy people should watch sodium intake. Cutting back on processed food is a great idea for anyone though.

      There is no reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.

      • I have been suffering from heel pain for over a year now. I couldent get answers from doctors to see what’s wrong w/me, anyhow I reaserched for many days until….. I finally discovered (MSG) was the problem and excess salt. At first I was in denyal, but th paint was so unberrable, I had to give it the benefit of the dought. Here I’am 6months later and walking jumping and running w/ my loved ones THANK GOD!

        My pesonal advice is; Stop the madness of junk food! U don’t know how much salt and additives are in ur meal ,unless u make it yourself. Not because ur healthy today means ur body won’t give out someday,eventually!

  6. Kris quit lying. you’re not european!
    you look Sri Lankan or indian. Why do you suffer from an inferior complex?

  7. You forgot to mention one thing, don’t overload on potassium! Potassium overdoses are worse than sodium overdoses.

  8. I like this one. How can I have a low salt diet?

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