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Salt and Sodium: Do You Know the Difference?

by Ms. Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Center

Video by Jonathan Parris

Although people tend to use the terms salt and sodium interchangeably, salt and sodium are two different things.

Sodium is a mineral that is essential to life. Table salt by weight contains about 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

The American Heart Association says 9 out of 10 Americans eat too much sodium, but surprisingly, the saltshaker isn’t the culprit. About 70% of the sodium we consume comes from processed, pre-packaged, and restaurant foods. A diet high in sodium can increase the risk for high blood pressure.

Consider taking these steps to reduce your sodium intake:

  1. Know the salty six: Pizza, sandwiches, soups, bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, and burritos and tacos. Watch your portions when you do eat these items.

  2. Read the nutrition facts label, and choose products with the lowest percent daily value (DV). Items with 5% or less per serving of sodium are considered low-sodium foods.

  3. Prepare more meals at home. Season with spices, herbs, and citrus to boost the flavor. Try making your own salt-free seasonings with the recipes in Extension publication 3586, “Nutrition and Wellness Salt-Free Spice Blends.”

  4. Look for reduced or low-sodium versions of condiments. Ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressings, and pickles can be sky-high in sodium.

  5. Ask for light seasonings at restaurants. Many restaurants have options for low-sodium seasonings, but you have to ask.

When it comes to sodium, keep these things in mind:

  • The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. For optimal health, the AHA recommends moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

  • Check ingredient lists for words like “sodium,” “salt,” and “soda.” The total sodium shown on the Nutrition Facts label includes the sodium from salt and sodium from any other sodium-containing ingredient in the product.

Bottom line: Sodium can be found in foods that don't even taste salty.

For more helpful tips like these, visit and join our Nutrition and Wellness Facebook group.

For more information about sodium and heart health, visit the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans websites.

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