Most people think salt and sodium are the same thing, but they're not. While both are minerals, the salt we put in shakers is sodium (Na) plus chloride (Cl). Typically, the ratio in the salt we use is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.
It’s the 40 percent that concerns those in medicine when it comes to our diets, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease.
How much do you need?
The Institute of Medicine sets adequate intake levels of sodium at 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day. By contrast, most Americans consume more than 3,000 mg per day.
If you’re a healthy adult, one rule of thumb is to try not to go over 2,300 mg. 1,500 mg should remain the guideline for those 51 or older, African Americans, and those with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes. To give you a sense of scale, it only takes one teaspoon of table salt to reach 2,000 mg.
Some have argued that sea salt, because it offers a more robust taste that regular salt, requires less to provide that enhancement people seek in their food, and therefore allows people to consume less. But it’s important to note that sea salt has the same sodium content as regular salt.
Why we need sodium
While we need to be mindful of our salt consumption, salt does plays an important role in health. It’s an essential element for nerve and muscle function and healthy cells; it also helps balance the body’s pH, fluids, and electrolytes.
The good news is that you can easily achieve proper salt consumption by basic food selection.
The primary reason Americans ingest more salt than they should is because our diets can favor processed foods, which require more salt to preserve. The next time you’re in the store, check out a can of soup or tomato sauce—the sodium levels are unusually high.
Same with cured meats, processed cheese, fast food, condiments, salted nuts, and more. By choosing foods like fresh fruits and veggies, you can take a dramatic leap toward reducing your salt consumption.
Want to see how salt savvy you are? Try this quiz from the American Heart Association.
“History of Salt,” www.saltworks.us
"Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium (1,500 mg/day or Less)," www.cdc.gov
“Sodium Versus Salt: What’s the Difference?” www.fitday.com