Sodium Requirements and Dietary Sources

Salt is one source of sodium which affects pH and fluid balance.
Kristin Lee/Getty Images

Sodium is a major mineral found in the fluid surrounding the cells in your body. Sodium and potassium work together to regulate blood pressure and fluid volume. Sodium also helps maintain pH balance. Your muscles and nervous system also need sodium to function properly.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division sets the recommended dietary intakes of all nutrients, including sodium.

The daily adequate intake (DAI) of sodium is based on the amount needed by an average person who is in good health. There are differences by age, but not by sex.

Daily Adequate Intakes

1 to 3 years: 1,000 milligrams per day
4 to 8 years: 1,200 milligrams per day
9 to 50 years: 1,500 milligrams per day
51 to 70 years: 1,300 milligrams per day
71+ years: 1,200 milligrams per day

The most obvious source of sodium is salt, which is half sodium and half chloride, and sodium is naturally found in tiny amounts in most foods. Dairy products, beets, and celery are all natural sources of sodium. But, processed foods usually contain the largest amount of sodium in the form of artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers. Restaurant foods are also often high in sodium.

Can You Have a Sodium Deficiency?

Sodium deficiency is rare because the average diet contains about double the recommended levels. The Institute of Medicine suggests getting about 1,500 milligrams per day and you can easily get by with about 500 milligrams per day.

Unfortunately, the typical Western diet contains around 3,000 to 5,000 milligrams. That's a lot of sodium every day.

When a sodium deficiency does occur, it's usually caused by profuse sweating combined with massive water intake in a short time and not by avoiding foods with sodium. This condition, called hyponatremia, is life-threatening and requires immediate medical care.

Most People Consume Too Much Sodium

The IOM suggests a daily intake no higher than 2,400 milligrams per day, but it's best to aim for about 1,500 milligrams each day. Since it's much more common to consume way too much sodium, Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods must state how much sodium is in each serving.

High sodium intake appears to affect blood pressure in some people and some people may need to lower their sodium intake even more to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting too much sodium is associated with higher blood pressure and can increase calcium loss from your bones. 

Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about sodium intake and your health.

How to Limit Your Sodium Intake

The best way to lower your sodium intake is to eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods, even salad dressings, and condiments can be high in sodium. In addition, you can use salt substitutes that are made with potassium instead of sodium. Season your foods with herbs and spices, but watch out for seasoning blends that may be high in salt and sodium.

Shop for foods that are lower in sodium, but watch for the label claims. Here's a list of what you may see:

  • Sodium-free: less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride
  • Very low sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low sodium:140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced (or less) sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
  • Light in sodium: If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

The last two claims can be a little tricky. For example, a tablespoon of regular soy has over 800 milligrams of sodium, so reduced sodium can still have about 400 milligrams of sodium, so it's not really a low-sodium food.

A Word From Verywell

Most diets are too high in sodium so be sure to pay attention to how much salt and food additives made with sodium are in the foods you eat.

It's also important to know that sea salt is just as high in sodium as regular salt and doesn't have any proven health benefits.

Sources:

American Heart Association. "Sodium and Salt." 

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013.  

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division. "Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application." 

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. "Sodium in Diet." 

The United States Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans - 2015.