Ditching processed foods may help lower sodium intake to meet new government guidelines

The Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments have issued new dietary guidelines that say Americans should not consume more than 2300mg of sodium per day.

“We are seeing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and the overriding theme in both of these conditions is hypertension, which is high blood pressure,” said Scott & White nephrologist Mohanram Narayanan, MD, FACP, FASN, FRCP (C). “You don’t want to fuel the fire of hypertension by increasing your sodium intake.”

The new 2300mg guideline is for people under the age of 50. For those who are over the age of 50, or those who are under 50, but have other risk factors, it is recommended that they only consume 1500mg of sodium per day.

“That even applies to children, too—African-American children, who are especially at risk of developing hypertension and children who already have high blood pressure or early Diabetes,” he said. “If you combine all of those people, it accumulates to almost 50 percent of the U.S. population who should reduce their intake to 1500mg.”

Dr. Narayanan said the average American consumes around 3500mg of sodium in their daily diet without even knowing it. The culprit—processed foods like potato chips, cold cuts and hot dogs.

“A lot of the population eats a lot of these processed foods and that’s usually the highest source of sodium in their diet,” he said. “One cup of soup contains 2000mg of sodium. So, you have just exceeded your daily amount of sodium just by consuming one cup of soup.”


To help you choose foods that are lower in sodium, the nephrologist said consumers need to pay attention to food labels.

“People think they are getting sodium from the salt shaker at the table, but that’s not where it’s from,” he said. “It’s usually what’s already pre-mixed into the food.”

And aside from passing on processed foods, Dr. Narayanan said Americans need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and more home-prepared food because they have been proven to help lower blood pressure.

In a study called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), the daily sodium of participants was reduced to 2300mg a day. Each person saw a significant drop in blood pressure. And blood pressures were lowered further when the daily sodium intake was reduced to 1200mg a day.

“That clearly demonstrates that reducing your sodium intake helps control your blood pressure,” Dr. Narayanan said.

And lowering blood pressure is the key to preventing complications from too much sodium intake.

“If you develop hypertension, you can develop heart disease, kidney disease or even have a stroke,” he said.

To keep track of how much sodium you’re consuming in a day, the doctor suggests looking at food labels and adding up your overall daily sodium and seeing if it matches the recommended amount.

“But the first step would be to cut down on processed foods,” Dr. Narayanan said. “And when you’re eating at a restaurant ask that your food not be salted or choose a lower sodium option.”

For more information on lowering the amount of sodium in your diet, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

What have you done to lower your sodium intake? Do you have any low-sodium recipes or resources to share?

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Ditching processed foods may help lower sodium intake to meet new government guidelines