How Much Sodium Should You Eat in a Day?

Sodium is good for you, as long as you don't eat too much of it.

Getty Images

Sodium is good for you; it's an essential mineral, which means that your body needs it but doesn't make it. So, you have to get it from food. Knowing how much you need in a day and the best sources to get it from can be tricky. Eating too much can lead to a whole host of health ailments.

Read on to find your recommended daily amount, tips for watching your intake, and advice on the healthiest sources for this helpful mineral.

Sodium Health Benefits

Many people use salt and sodium interchangeably, but they aren't the same.

Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in some foods and is added to most processed foods. It's also a component of salt, which is technically called sodium chloride because it's made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

To put that into perspective, one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That's precisely a whole day's worth of sodium, per United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. (The guidelines call for 1,500 milligrams daily for people with hypertension, aka high blood pressure).

Sodium helps your body performs several critical functions, including:

  • Allowing muscles and nerves to work correctly.
  • Regulating the delicate balance of fluids in your body.
  • Helping you keep a proper blood volume.
  • Helping maintain the correct blood pressure.

What Happens If You Eat Too Much?

About 90% of the U.S. population over age 2 was getting more than the recommended daily amount of sodium in 2021. The average intake was more than 3,400 milligrams. That's a concern because health risks are associated with eating too much for too long.

One concern about sodium is that it causes your body to retain excess fluid. This leads to an increase in blood pressure, which then ups your risk of several life-threatening conditions and illnesses that include:

  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Excess sodium intake is a global problem. In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that reducing the average amount of sodium people eat to recommended levels could prevent 2.5 million deaths annually.

Can You Get Too Little Sodium?

Some research suggests that a diet low in sodium may be harmful. But that claim is controversial.

In 2016, The Lancet published a collection of four studies that followed more than 100,000 participants—some with high blood pressure, some without—from nearly 50 countries for almost four years. The researchers found that people with a low sodium intake (less than 3,000 milligrams) had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or heart failure than those who ate between 3,000 and 6,000 milligrams daily.

That's well above the 2022 FDA recommendations.

But, the study has come under attack because the researchers only assessed the participants' sodium levels with a single urine sample collected at the beginning. Also, the data did not reveal a direct cause and effect. It showed an association between lower sodium diets and an increased risk of heart problems. That left many questions unanswered.

The FDA and American Heart Association stand by the current sodium guidelines because of the many serious health risks associated with overeating sodium.

Who Should Get More Sodium?

There are times when you might need more than the guidelines, such as if:

  • You sweat a lot.
  • You exercise for long periods.
  • You have certain kidney conditions that cause you to lose too much salt in your urine, such as Bartter syndrome. (Consult a healthcare professional first.)
  • Your healthcare professional recommends you consume more.

Who Should Get Less Sodium?

However, it's more likely that you need to eat at or below the guidelines, especially if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have kidney problems
  • Are over 50
  • Have chronic kidney disease.

The recommendations for Black people are also lower. Studies show that Black people tend to be more sensitive to sodium's harmful effects. Taking more than the RDA of potassium can reduce racial disparities in salt sensitivity.

How Can You Cut Down on Sodium?

FDA data shows that roughly 70% of an average American's sodium intake comes from processed foods, not adding salt while eating or cooking. And if you look at the milligrams of sodium per serving on nutrition labels, you'll see why.

One cup of canned soup (not the whole can) can contain more than 900 milligrams. A quarter cup of bottled salad dressing or a frozen low-cal entrée can each contain nearly 700 milligrams, while a whole frozen pizza typically has more than 1,600 milligrams. Even foods that don't seem salty can pack a lot of sodium. A blueberry scone, for example, may contain more than 750 milligrams.

However, fresh whole foods tend to be low in sodium. Raw spinach only provides 24 milligrams per cup, and a cup of chopped raw celery packs 81 milligrams.

Foods That Can Be High in Sodium

The CDC states that the majority of sodium in American diets comes from:

  • Bread and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Poultry
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches
  • Cheese
  • Pasta dishes (not including macaroni and cheese)
  • Meat dishes
  • Snacks

Ways To Consume Less Sodium

The CDC recommends the following to reduce your sodium intake:

  • Buy lower-sodium options.
  • Talk with your grocer or favorite restaurant about stocking lower-sodium food choices.
  • Read the nutrition label to find the lowest sodium versions of your favorite foods.
  • Check between brands because sodium content can vary greatly, even for the same item.
  • Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more frozen fruits and vegetables without sauce.
  • Limit processed foods high in sodium.
  • When eating out, request lower sodium options.
  • Support initiatives that reduce sodium in foods in cafeterias and vending machines.

Consult a healthcare provider like a registered dietitian if you have risk factors for heart disease. Discuss ways to reduce sodium intake, which may include:

  • Incorporating more home-cooked meal
  • Eating ready-prepared meals in moderation
  • Opting for reduced-sodium cold cuts and cheeses
  • Reading the nutrition facts label for all of your food purchases

Be mindful of using "salt substitutes," and flavor your delicious meals with "salt-free" seasonings or fresh herbs and spices while still meeting your daily sodium recommendations.

A Quick Review

Your body needs sodium to perform several critical functions. You can't make it, so you need to get it from the foods and beverages you consume. Multiple health organizations recommend eating less than 2,300 milligrams daily for most Americans or less than 1,500 milligrams for some people with conditions such as high blood pressure.

Overeating sodium causes your body to retain water, which leads to several chronic or life-threatening conditions and illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Most people get too much sodium, so it's a good idea to look at ways to lower your intake.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Food and Drug Administration. Sodium in your diet.

  2. Farquhar WB, Edwards DG, Jurkovitz CT, Weintraub WS. Dietary sodium and health: more than just blood pressureJ Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;65(10):1042-1050. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium.

  4. World Health Organization. Salt intake.

  5. Mente A, O’Donnell M, Rangarajan S, et al. Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studiesThe Lancet. 2016;388(10043):465-475.

  6. Veniamakis E, Kaplanis G, Voulgaris P, Nikolaidis PT. Effects of sodium intake on health and performance in endurance and ultra-endurance sportsIJERPH. 2022;19(6):3651. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19063651.

  7. MedLine Plus. Bartter syndrome.

  8. MedLine Plus. Sodium.

  9. Kurtz TW, DiCarlo SE, Pravenec M, Morris RC. No evidence of racial disparities in blood pressure salt sensitivity when potassium intake exceeds levels recommended in the US dietary guidelinesAm J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2021;320(5):H1903-H1918. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00980.2020

  10. Centers for Disease Control. Where's the sodium?

Related Articles