20 Questions on Salt

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

If you have questions about salt or sodium, you are not alone. Many people do, especially when we’re told that we eat more sodium than we actually need. Here are 20 questions I hear often that may help put this hot topic into perspective.

1. What’s the difference between salt and sodium?
Though healthcare providers and media outlets often use the terms interchangeably, salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

2. Which foods contain sodium naturally?
Some sodium is found naturally in milk as well as a few vegetables like celery, beets, and spinach. Most fruits and vegetables contain a negligible amount of sodium, if any.

Sodium is sodium regardless if it is naturally occurring; however, only about 30% of our overall sodium intake comes foods with naturally occurring sodium.

3. What foods contain sodium that may not be as obvious?
About 70% of our sodium intake comes from processed/packaged foods or added table salt.
Packaged or processed foods typically contain some amount of sodium. This includes sweet foods like cookies and cakes in addition to the more obvious salty snacks, soups, tomato sauce, canned vegetables, oatmeal packets – you name it. Shelf stability, taste, and texture often depends on sodium.

4. Does sparkling water contain sodium?
Seltzer water, or sparkling water is simply water with bubbles, or carbon dioxide, and does not have added sodium. Mineral water and club soda typically contain some amount of sodium. The difference between mineral water and club soda is that sodium is naturally occurring in mineral water but is added into club sodas.

5. Which salt is best to cook with?
All salt will season food, but there are differences in texture and sodium content when measuring. Many chefs and home cooks prefer the coarser grains of kosher salt, which are easy to pinch and dissolve quickly.

“Finishing salts” like Maldon salt, fleur de sel, and Himalayan pink salt have even larger grains, dissolve less quickly, and add a hint of flavor and texture to the top of a cooked dish or baked good. These are often referred to more generally as “flaky sea salt.”

6. Which salt has the least amount of sodium?
There are differences in the sodium content of various types of salt if measuring by volume. By weight, all salt is 40% sodium.

Regular table salt, for instance, contains 590 mg of sodium per ¼ teaspoon. By comparison, Morton Coarse Kosher Salt, has 480 milligrams of sodium per ¼ teaspoon. Another brand of kosher salt, Diamond Crystal, has just 280 mg per ¼ teaspoon.

7. What salt does Ann like to use?
For the sake of consistency and to season food appropriately without over-salting, Ann specifies kosher salt in her recipes. So as not to be too nit-picky, she doesn’t specify a brand.

However, she uses Morton for two reasons. First, it’s more widely available. Second, if she uses 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to achieve best flavor with the least amount of sodium in a recipe, the outcome would be less salty when using Diamond. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away. As always, you may modify the amount of salt in any recipe as desired.

8. What seasonings contain sodium that I may not realize?
Onion or garlic salt, soy sauce, bouillon cubes, Sazón (check out Ann’s homemade version!), steak rubs, and taco seasoning packs, to name a few. Look on the label for ingredients that contain the word “sodium” in any form such as “disodium” or “monosodium” for example.

9. How much sodium is in 1 teaspoon of salt?
1 teaspoon table salt = about 2,300mg sodium.
1 teaspoon Morton Kosher Salt = 1920mg sodium
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Salt = 1120mg sodium

10. How much sodium should I be eating everyday?
This question is unique to each individual and will be more relevant day-to-day for those with certain medical conditions or risk factors.

On average, Americans consume about 3,500mg sodium daily. The recommendation from the CDC, the American Heart Association, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 is 2,300mg sodium a day (or about 1 teaspoon table salt as noted above).

For those with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver failure, or heart failure for example the recommendations are closer to 1500-2000mg/day.

Of note, there is some conflicting research. Some studies show those who have normal blood pressure and have no risk factors for the above noted conditions, do not need to monitor sodium intake. This is not reflected in official guidelines, but it is important to consider, especially if managing sodium intake is a source of potentially unnecessary stress.

11. Can I eat too little sodium?
This is unlikely to happen if you are nourishing yourself adequately. Meaning, those who have  difficulty meeting sodium requirements are often not eating enough in general.

12. What is salt sensitivity?
Some people can eat a very high sodium diet but their blood pressure naturally remains low. Their blood pressure is not particularly reactive to dietary sodium.

On the other hand, some people’s blood pressure will spike after just a few bites of a salty food! The silver lining for those who are salt sensitive, is that a reduction of sodium in the diet can make a big impact on blood pressure relatively quickly.

13. How do I know how much salt is in the food I eat?
Fresh foods are lowest in sodium and are a negligible source of sodium in the daily diet.

On average, Americans get 70% of their sodium intake from restaurants and packaged or processed foods. Luckily, processed foods have sodium content listed on the back. Sodium (in mg) is listed per serving size. So multiply this number by how many servings you have (serving sizes are included at the top of the nutrition label).

Some packages will even have information about salt or sodium on the front of the label:

  • “Low sodium” is 140mg or less per serving.
  • “Reduced sodium” is 25% less than the regular product.
  • “No-salt added” means no salt was added during processing, but it can still contain sodium.

      For restaurant food, generally speaking certain menu items tend to be higher in sodium than
      others. Which restaurant foods tend to be highest in sodium?

  • Dressings
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Anything “crusted,” “fried,” or “battered”
  • Chips/crisps
  • Pickles and pickled items

14. What can I use instead of salt to season food?
Fresh herbs, garlic, onions, black pepper, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and other dried seasonings that don’t contain any form of sodium. The use of these can also make a lesser amount of salt go a longer way!

15. Can I eat canned foods if I need to watch my sodium intake?
Typically, fresh for frozen foods have the least amount of sodium but that doesn’t mean canned foods can’t be a valuable part of the diet. They can be handy, cheap, and easy to prepare.

Thoroughly rinse canned items like beans or corn with water before preparation. This will help remove the salt solution that was helping to preserve what was in the can. Purchasing lower-sodium canned broths, sauces and produce can also make an impact.

16. Is it true that if I stop eating salt, my taste buds will adapt?
Some studies show that after a few weeks of eating less sodium, people reported enjoying the taste of foods in ways they hadn’t truly appreciated before – and also that the foods they used to think tasted good were now overly salty. 

17. Can salt make you gain weight?
When the body takes in salt, it holds on to more water to balance hydration levels. This is why water retention, or bloating, after a high sodium meal is common. This is not body weight, and it’s temporary, but it will register on the scale.

18. Can children have salt?
Yes. For kids over age 8, the recommended intake of daily sodium is similar to that of adults. For toddlers, it’s 1500mg, and for 4- to 8-year olds, the recommendation is 1,900mg per day.

19. Do I also need to monitor my potassium intake?
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is a diet high in potassium. High potassium diets are helpful in managing blood pressure and in maintaining overall healthy eating patterns. However, it is important to note that those with kidney disease who have high serum potassium levels need to limit high potassium foods.

20. Can you eat intuitively while also being mindful of sodium intake?
Yes, and in fact, it’s incredibly valuably to observe and listen to your body signs and signals. Notice when you are retaining fluid and feel what it’s like for your body after a meal with high sodium (this may mean checking blood pressure for some people).

Keep yourself nourished throughout the day so that you are not overly hungry or hangry, and at risk for overeating. Taste food as you are cooking to determine the need for added salt, if any. And allow yourself to taste food once it’s delivered to the table, prior to adding salt – it may taste okay without it!

And if one day you realize you have eaten too much salt, forgive yourself and start a new day.

 ❤️  We love hearing more from you. Feel free to comment below or ask any further questions you have about salt or sodium. As a reminder, this article is general, and not meant to replace an individual’s relationship with their healthcare team.

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Comments

  1. Georgina Russo

    Thanks for this informative piece on salt. I have always had questions about how it factors into a healthy diet. Now I know!

    Reply
  2. Carrie

    Thank you for your balanced perspective, Emily. Your comment that Americans get 70% of their sodium from restaurants and packaged/processed foods reinforces the notion of cooking at home and limiting the packaged foods to the favorites. Thankfully we have a treasure trove of recipes here!

    Reply
  3. Sue

    One thing that is missing from this article is mention of pollutants from regular sources of salt like sea water. Microplastics can be found in sea salt, kosher salt and other table salts. There is no mention of healthy salts such as Himalayan pink salt or ancient sea bed salt (from Utah?) which is better for you. I found ancient sea bed salt to be stronger than kosher salt so use less in cooking.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Sue, thanks for your readership and your time in commenting on this article. I always appreciate feedback and further dialogue (especially on salt—a huge topic that even 20 questions won’t fully address!). I agree that pollutants are a global problem, and sadly there are many touch points to pollutants in what we eat and in our environment. For those lucky enough to have a choice, there are many different salts to choose among (Himalayan pink salt being one I mentioned as a perfect finishing salt), and they all have their pros and cons in cooking or table use and in terms of affordability, accessibility, iodine adequacy, and taste preference. I’m glad you found a combination that works for you – happy cooking!

      Reply