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Sodium: What You Should Know


Sodium: What You Should Know


Sodium compounds

Salt (sodium chloride): Used in cooking or at the table. Used in canning and preserving.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): A seasoning used in home, hotel, and restaurant cooking, and in many packaged, canned, and frozen foods.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes. Sometimes added to vegetables in cooking, Used as an alkalizer for indigestion.

Baking powder: Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.

Disodium phosphate: Found in some quick-cooking cereals and processed cheeses.

Sodium alginate: Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to make a smooth mixture.

Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in many condiments, such as relishes, sauces, and salad dressings.

Sodium hydroxide: Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe olives and certain fruits and vegetables.

Sodium nitrate: Used in cured meats and sausages.

Sodium propionate: Used in pasteurized cheeses and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds.

Sodium sulfite: Used to bleach certain fruits, such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are artificially colored. Also used as a preservative in some dried fruits, such as prunes.

Label claims
Sodium free: Contains less than 5 milligrams (mg) sodium per serving. Manufacturers cannot list any ingredient that is sodium chloride or generally understood to contain sodium and claim that the item is sodium free, unless it is accompanied by an asterisk that refers to a footnote (eg, *Adds a trivial amount of sodium).

Low sodium: Contains 140 mg or less per reference amount (and per 50 grams [g] if reference amount is small). Meals and main dishes contain 140 mg or less/100-g serving.

Reduced or less sodium: Contains at least 25% less sodium per reference amount than an appropriate reference food (low-sodium foods are not allowed as a reference food).

Light in sodium: Used if the food’s sodium is reduced by at least 50% per reference amount. The entire term “light in sodium” must appear in same type, size, color, and prominence. Light in sodium for meals=low in sodium.

Very low sodium: Contains 35 mg or less per reference amount (and per 50 g if reference amount is small). For meals and main dishes it is 35 mg or less per 100 g.

Salt free: Must meet criterion for sodium free.

Lightly salted: Contains 50% less sodium than what is normally added to the reference food. If the food is not low sodium, this information must appear on the label’s information panel.

No salt added and unsalted: These are conditions of use and must declare, “This is not a sodium-free food” on the information panel if food is not sodium free.

Light: The term “light” may appear on sodium-reduced products, if the food is low calorie and low fat, and if sodium is reduced by at least 50% per reference amount.

Healthy: A food labeled “healthy” must meet the sodium requirement of 480 mg or less for individual foods, seafood, and game meats, and 600 mg or less for meals and main dishes. If the serving size of an individual food, seafood, or game meat is small (30 g or less or 2 tablespoons or less) the requirement is per 50 g.


Sodium calculations
1 teaspoon of salt (NaCl): approximately 2300 mg sodium (Na+)

To convert Na+ milliequivalent (mEq) to mg: 1 mEq=23 mg

Normal saline=0.9% NaCl
1 liter (L) normal saline=154 mEq Na+

Example: How much sodium is in ½ L of normal saline?
0.5 L×154 mEq Na+/L×23 mg/mEq=1771 mg Na+


References and recommended readings
American Heart Association®. Sodium and salt. Web site. Updated March 4, 2014. Accessed March 27, 2014.

Guidance for industry: a food labeling guide (9. Appendix A: definitions of nutrient content claims). US Food and Drug Administration Web site. Published January 2013. Updated November 22, 2013. Accessed March 27, 2014.

Ready reference guides. Merck Manuals Web site. Updated September 2013. Accessed March 27, 2014.

US Dept of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Web site. Accessed March 27, 2014.

Review Date 3/14


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