Food label language: Sodium

Reduce sodium intake by understanding the nutrition label language.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day for the general population. For those people who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, are African American, and, or are over the age of 51, it is recommended that not more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium are consumed daily.

Why do I need to worry about how much sodium I eat?

Currently, it is estimated that the average American eats 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. Intake at these levels and higher can contribute to high blood pressure which can increase your risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. To reduce your risk, keep your sodium intake at or below the recommended amount.

How do I know how much sodium is in food?

The best place to look to see the amount of sodium in your food is the nutrition facts label. Wording on the front of the label can also help you determine how much sodium is in a product. Below is a list of regulated words that are used on the front of a food label and what they mean in regards to sodium.

  • Sodium free: Sodium content must be less than .5 milligram per labeled serving. If the product is a meal/main dish sodium content must be less than 5 milligrams per serving.
  • Very low sodium: Sodium content must be less than 35 milligrams per 50 grams of food or 100 grams if the product is a meal/main dish.
  • Low sodium: Sodium content must be less than 140 milligrams per 50 grams of food or 100 grams if the product is a meal/main dish.
  • Reduced (fewer, lower) sodium: Sodium content must be at least 25 percent less than an appropriate reference food. For example if regular tortilla chips contain 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, then to be labeled as reduced sodium the tortilla chips must have less than 375 milligrams per serving. For meals the 25 percent is based on per 100 grams.
  • No salt added/unsalted: This statement means that there is not any added salt to the product. This does not mean that the product is sodium free. Some foods naturally contain sodium and they must contain a disclaimer that states “This is not a sodium free food.” Check out the nutrition facts label to make sure!
  • Salt free: These products must meet the requirements for the “Sodium Free” criteria, as listed above.

How can I reduce my sodium intake?

  • When buying canned food, buy the no salt added or reduced sodium options.
  • Add flavor with herbs and spices. There are many recipes that offer great flavor without all the sodium. Check out this Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale recipe to keep you warm this winter!

Take the time to read your labels and look at the nutrition facts to keep your sodium intake at the recommended levels. This can improve your health and the health of your family!

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults and youth that include information on reading food labels and making healthy choices. For more information on sodium read Start the New Year healthy by consuming less sodium.

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