Consult your Doctor
From the FDA -Lowering Salt in
Everyone needs some salt to function. Also known as sodium
chloride, salt helps maintain the body's balance of fluids.
Salt also functions in many foods as a preservative by helping
to prevent spoilage and keeping certain foods safe to eat. But
nearly all Americans consume more salt than they need,
according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These
guidelines are published every five years by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
The natural salt in food accounts for about 10 percent of
total intake, on average, according to the guidelines. The
salt we add at the table or while cooking adds another 5 to 10
percent. About 75 percent of our total salt intake comes from
salt added to processed foods by manufacturers and salt that
cooks add to foods at restaurants and other food service
Q. What are the health effects of too much salt?
A. In many people, salt contributes to high blood pressure.
High blood pressure makes the heart work harder and can lead
to heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.
Q. What is the daily recommended amount of sodium for
A. The amount of salt in a food is listed as “sodium” on the
Nutrition Facts label that appears on food packaging. The
Dietary Guidelines recommend that the general population
consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about a
teaspoon of table salt). Most food labels shorten the word
“milligrams” to “mg.” Dietary recommendations and food labels
use sodium rather than salt since it is the sodium component
of salt that is most relevant for human health.
Some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than
others. The guidelines also recommend that, in general,
individuals with hypertension, blacks, and middle-aged and
older adults should limit intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per
The exceptions to this guideline are people whose doctors have
put them on a diet that requires even less sodium because of a
medical condition. Always follow your doctor’s recommendation
about how much sodium you can have daily.
Q. What steps can I take to lower my salt intake?
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Consume foods that are rich in potassium.
Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood
pressure. The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents
and adults is 4,700 mg/day. Potassium-rich foods include
leafy, green vegetables and fruits from vines.
Flavor food with pepper and other herbs and
spices instead of salt.
Choose unsalted snacks.
Read food labels and choose foods low in
Q. How can I tell if a food is low in sodium or high in
A. The Nutrition Facts label that appears on food packaging
also lists the “% Daily Value” for sodium. Look for the
abbreviation “%DV” to find it. Foods listed as 5% or less for
sodium are low in sodium. Anything above 20% for sodium is
considered high. Try to select foods that provide 5% or less
for sodium, per serving.
Q. Are salt substitutes safe?
A. Many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride and can be
used by individuals to replace salt in their diet. There are
no known undesirable effects in healthy people who consume a
lot of potassium; however, potassium could be harmful to
people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes,
kidney disease, and heart disease. Check with your doctor
before using salt substitutes.
Q. What is FDA's role in regulating salt?
Salt is regulated by FDA as a “generally recognized as safe”
(GRAS) ingredient. A GRAS substance is one that has a long
history of safe, common use in foods, or that is determined to
be safe, for the intended use, based on proven science. These
substances need not be approved by FDA prior to being used.
FDA requires that sodium content be stated on food labels. FDA
has implemented several labeling requirements related to
sodium content of foods.
FDA sets criteria for nutrient-content claims
that manufacturers make about foods. Examples are "low sodium"
and "reduced in sodium."
FDA has not exercised its regulatory authority
to limit the amount of salt added to processed foods; however,
the agency is conducting research in this area. In 2005, the
Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a
Citizen's Petition to FDA requesting that the agency make
changes to the regulatory status of salt, including requiring
limits on the amount of salt in processed food. In November
2007, FDA held a public hearing in College Park, Md., on the
agency's policies regarding salt in food, and solicited
comments from the public about future regulatory approaches.
Q. Will FDA be regulating salt as recommended by the
Institute of Medicine report?
A. FDA was a sponsor of the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
report, "Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United
States," which was released by IOM on April 20, 2010. The IOM
committee reviewed and recommended various ways to reduce
sodium intake. The strategies recommended included actions by
FDA and other government agencies and by food manufacturers,
public health professionals, and consumer educators. These
recommendations are being carefully reviewed and evaluated by
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which
features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.