When you think of sodium, salt probably comes to mind. Although the two terms, “sodium” and “salt” are often used interchangeably, they are different substances. Sodium is essential for life and for good health. It is a mineral that the body cannot manufacture itself so it must be supplied by food. Sodium is readily available from various sources—foods that contain sodium naturally, foods containing salt and other sodium-containing ingredients, and from salt added to foods during cooking and at the table. As a component of salt, sodium’s most recognized role is to make foods more flavorful. Less well-known, yet important roles of sodium-containing ingredients include helping to preserve foods, improving the texture of foods, and ensuring the safety of some foods.
Compared to other minerals, the human body needs sodium in relatively large amounts. Yet, much of the world’s population consumes more than the body’s minimum requirement for sodium. In some individuals, research suggests a link between high sodium and salt intake and high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. However, this relationship may be affected by concurrent intake of other key minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Regulating sodium intake is also believed to be important in preventing and treating other health conditions.
Below, we have a variety of resources regarding the human need for consuming sodium, its impact on health, how conusmers percieve sodium and health issues, and steps we can all begin taking toward better health.
Blood Pressure Management: Communicating Comprehensive Lifestyle Strategies Beyond Sodium
While many public health officials and healthcare providers view reducing sodium intake as the primary strategy to lower blood pressure, a 2010 expert Roundtable indicates that strategies that encourage lifestyle modifications could yield better results.
IFIC convened the Roundtable discussion with 10 leaders in the fields of chronic disease, food science, nutrition, communications, public health and public policy to discuss a comprehensive diet and lifestyle approach to blood pressure management. The experts agreed that meeting government sodium intake recommendations (1500 mg/d) is challenging, but emphasizing a holistic approach that focuses on positive messaging and strategies like weight management, eating more fruits and vegetables, engaging in physical activity and moderating alcohol intake is needed to manage high blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
This peer-reviewed article appeared in the 2012 July/August issue of Nutrition Today and is now availabe for a FREE download via the link above!
IOM Committee Report on Sodium Intake in Populations
Americans consume more sodium than is recommended. Current estimates say that the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day, or about 1.5 times the 2,300 mg that is recommended for healthy individuals. Reducing the amount of sodium in the American diet is a primary focus for a key public health initiative to lower blood pressure as a means to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) across the population. Emerging evidence, however, suggests that low sodium intakes may increase health risks, especially in certain populations.
With all of this in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to form an expert committee to compile a report assessing whether sodium reduction increases the risk of adverse health outcomes.
Blood Pressure Management Series in Food Insight
Our three part series published in fall 2012 focuses on the multiple ways blood pressure can be effectively managed. Part 1 of the series discusses the importance of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (aka the DASH diet). Part 2 focuses on the role of potassium in a heart healthy diet. Part 3 examines other evidenced-based diet and lifestyle approaches to managing blood pressure.
Part 1: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension - "A Little DASH Will Do"
Part 2: Potassium - "Milligrams Can Help Manage Millimeters of Mercury"
Part 3: Blood Pressure Management - "Combining Diet and Lifestyle Factors for Success"
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2011 Consumer Sodium Research: Is Sodium on American Plates and Minds? An Assessment of Consumer Attitudes and Behavior with Respect to Dietary Sodium
Dietary sodium has received increasingly intense attention due to its effect on blood pressure and the increasing prevalence of hypertension in the U.S. population. Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, has recommended that healthy Americans without risk of hypertension should consume no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day. Those with or at risk for hypertension are advised to consume no more than 1,500 mg sodium per day. Advising lower sodium intakes as a primary prevention behavior for those at risk effectively lowers the sodium guidance for numerous healthy individuals, most broadly those who are African American of any age, but also all who are 51 years of age or older.
*To view the 2011 Consumer Sodium Research Report, click here.
*To view the 2009 Consumer Sodium Research Report, click here.
IFIC Review: Sodium in Food and Health
Salt has a long history as a highly-valued commodity. Over the years, salt has served many diverse purposes and roles beyond its use in seasoning foods. One of salt’s most recognized uses, dating back to early centuries, has been in preserving foods, including meat, fish, vegetables, and even fruit. Salting foods prevented spoiling by drawing water out of the food, depriving bacteria of the moisture needed to thrive. Without salt, the world’s food supply would have been considerably less plentiful and less safe.
Fact Sheet: Potassium & Heart Health
Potassium is a nutrient that is essential for health at the most basic level—it keeps the body’s cells functioning properly. Along with sodium and other compounds, potassium is an electrolyte, working to regulate the balance of body fluids. These actions affect nerve signaling, muscle contraction, and the tone of blood vessels, with far-reaching impacts on the body, including the cardiovascular system.
What’s Up and What’s Going Down With Sodium? (Blog Post)
Numbers can be a polarizing topic. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em, but we all have to deal with them at some point. Such is the case with sodium consumption, or is it? In light of the increased media attention due to the numerous studies and official reports that have recently been released regarding sodium, most notably the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2011 is the perfect point in time to check in with consumers.
Assessing The Sodium Situation: The Consumer’s Perspective
The topic of sodium consumption has received increased attention and stimulated much debate among the scientific and public health communities recently due to its effect on blood pressure and the increasing prevalence of hypertension in the U.S. population. Various studies have examined many aspects of sodium and official reports with sodium recommendations are not lacking either. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report, Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the US 2010, estimating that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually. In January 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the much anticipated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Among the key recommendations outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines is to “reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.”
Consumer Insights on Sodium in their Diet (Video)
We ask people their understanding of sodium in our diet.
Other Sodium Resources
IOM Report (May 2013): "Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence"
IOM Report (April 2010): "Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States"
USDA/HHS (January 2011): Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
USDA/ARS (September 2012): National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25