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Sources of Sodium

This is an Interactive page. If you have questions concerning sodium, salt or other high sodium foods, please email us at:
Salt, whether sea, table, or kosher, contains 2,350 mg of sodium per teaspoon. However, salt is not the only source of sodium you should be concerned about. Scientifically it has been established that our bodies need only 144 mg to 180 mg of sodium per day. That's a low figure and could be attained very simply with two eggs or a few carrots and a stalk of celery. It would also be difficult to consume less than that and survive, although Dr. Trevor Beard at the Queensland Hypertension Center in Australia wrote that he had discovered a group of natives on an island who had never eaten salt and had survived strongly on native foods, most of which were very low in sodium.

When we discuss sodium, we refer to all forms of sodium, that is, natural sodium in foods and the sodium found in table salt, sea salt and Kosher salt. Unfortunately, there are a great number of hidden sources of sodium found in packaged, canned, frozen and prepared foods, as well as in dairy products. And now we have to look out for fresh poultry that is brined, as well as fresh pork, some of which is also brined. Many turkeys have additional additives with salt brining a major part of their everyday processing. The excuse is "the turkey tastes better that way and it cooks faster." Neither excuse is a good reason. Cooking time might quicken by a few minutes but the flavor of natural turkey is better than "salted" birds. Read more about our palates and why that "salted" turkey seems to "taste better." (NOTE: Your vitamins and other supplements may also have sodium. A Centrum Senior or comparable vitamin contains nearly 61 mg of sodium. In our low sodium lifestyle, that can be more than 10% of a desirable daily intake.) The following are the most prevalent sources of sodium.

Baking Powder (double acting)
Standard baking powder contains 320 mg to 480 mg per teaspoon. Baking powder is used mostly to leaven quick breads and cakes. Yeast may be substituted some times for baking powder. A baking powder replacement brand called Featherweight has only 13.2 mg of sodium per tablespoon although its FDA panel or label will show zero. To make sure of any food's true sodium level visit our nutrtional data pages by clicking on the food lists at the top left of this page. Our favorite no sodium baking powder is Ener-G Baking Powder. When used per instructions it works quite well when baking without salt and the standard baking powder. You'll find some reports at that rate it low, but those were posted before Ener-G changed its formula in 2009-2010. Today it is double-acting (which Featherweight is not), and it can be mixed into a wet batter without worrying how quickly you have to get it into the oven. The primary ingredient for Featherweight® is Potassium Chloride. Ener-G uses Calcium Carbonate as its primary ingredient.

Baking Soda
Baking soda has approximately 821 mg to 980 mg of sodium per teaspoon. Generally used to leaven breads and cakes, baking soda is often added by commercial food servers such as restaurants, and food processors, who may add it to vegetables when cooking. It is also often included in antacids. We should try to avoid using baking soda. When in a restaurant, ask whether it was used on your food even as a freshener. Fortunately for home chefs, a good baking soda replacement is available from Ener-G Foods in Seattle, Washington. You can buy it online at Healthy Heart Market. Essentially, Ener-G Baking Soda is Calcium Carbonate and it works best when using two to three times the amount in a favorite recipes. Our recipes already take into account the amount needed. For Ener-G Baking Soda, the secret is to put it into the batter just before putting the recipe into the oven. It begins working right away and will "tire" if it stays out of the oven during prep time. Used correctly, Ener-G does a good job.

Brined Meat, Commercially Processed
It's no longer safe for low-sodium eaters to trust any of the meat or fish processors. Today, many are brining chicken, pork, turkey, shrimp and other shell fish. Some do it to extend shelf life, others might claim it "adds flavor." The not-told marketing reason is that it adds the taste of salt, which our damaged palates have become accustomed to. In our cookbook, Living Well Without Salt, we explain about the damage our palates have suffered and how you can heal the damage in just ninety days. Shrimp processors are salting nearly all shrimp, even the shrimp that may be displayed as fresh in your local market. (New federal USDA rulings state that all meats, fish and produce must now be displayed with a notice of where each product was produced. You'll find that much of our shrimp comes from countries you'd never even thought about as a food source before. Before purchasing shrimp, ask the counter-help to show you the package it came in before they displayed it. You'll see the FDA label on the package and note that the sodium level is high due to the added salt.

Finding natural chicken, turkey and pork is becoming more and more difficult. Unless you buy a "free range" turkey, you are probably not getting a "natural" turkey.

Brining red and white meats is a process that soaks through all the meat cells and cannot be washed off. The labels that processors place on packaging might state, "Natural," "No Additives", "Fresh," etc. These generally are "marketing terms." Processors are raising the sodium levels of meat from around 72 mg per 4-ounce serving to over 500 mg per 4-ounce serving. FDA labels should show about 80 mg per 4-ounce serving and nothing higher for these "fresh" cuts of meat. If the meat you are buying does not have a label, the odds are it has been brined. Ask your butcher for the official FDA and USDA information. He must give it to you. Be especially careful when eating in a friend's home or a restaurant. If they serve either of the above meats, you can almost always expect they purchased the higher sodium variety, which is usually the cheaper cut as well. Another absurd excuse used by processors that you might hear? "Brining makes the meat juicier."

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a dangerous sodium for those who may suffer from asthma or migraine headaches. Used as a seasoning in home, restaurant, and hotel cooking, MSG is present in packaged, canned, and frozen foods. MSG is used extensively in Chinese restaurants, and often is the flavor ingredient in foods that advertise "Natural Flavorings." Two chemicals are used or combined in these products. They are generally not listed on FDA labels because they don't have to be, but they come together to produce the MSG, which otherwise would have to be on the labels. (Natural MSG comes from seaweed.) The symptoms of MSG sensitivity have commonly been described as headache, flushing, tingling, weakness, and stomach-ache. After eating meals prepared with MSG, people with MSG sensitivity may develop a migraine headache, visual disturbance, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, tightness of the chest, skin rash, or sensitivity to light, noise, or smells. These are sometimes referred to as "Chinese restaurant syndrome."

In some products, "natural flavors," "natural flavorings," and "flavor" can be ingredients such as ginger, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery powder, and garlic oil, which may be listed as one of the three categories mentioned above. They may be designated as "natural flavors" because they are substances used chiefly for flavor. These ingredients do not contribute any nutritional benefits, are not derived from an animal species, and they have no health concerns linked to them. But, this is where we get played with; most are using the MSG chemical combinations instead.

In other words, it's very difficult to trust processors today with our health. They publish only what the FDA requires, and that's not always what we need to know. In the end we find ourselves tossing a coin as to whether to enjoy the food or not. We suggest that you call the 1-800 number on any product and ask what the unnamed additives and preservatives are. Look especially for hydrolized proteins or amino acids. Ask for a printout of their official complete ingredient listing for the product you are interested in. You can expect a rejection at first, but keep after them. Eventually some will send it to you or send an explanatory E-mail.

MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein. It is found in virtually (and naturally) all our food and in abundance in food that is high in protein, including meat, poultry, cheeses, and fish.

Bottom Line: Hydrolyzed proteins used by the food industry to enhance flavor are simply proteins that have been chemically broken apart into amino acids. The chemical breakdown of proteins may result in the formation of free glutamate that joins with free sodium to form MSG. By FDA regulations, in this case, the presence of MSG does not need to be disclosed on labeling. Labeling is required only when MSG is added as a direct ingredient.

Disodium citrate
The sodium of citric acid (E331). Used as an antioxidant in food and enhances other antioxidants. Also present as an acidity regulator and sequestrant. Look for it in gelatin products, sweets, ice cream, jam, colas, wine and processed cheeses.

Disodium Phosphate (or Sodium Phosphate).
Used in processed cheeses as an emulsifier and in some quick cooking cereals as an antioxidant synergist, stabilizer and buffering agent. It is also added to powdered milk to prevent gelation..


Potassium works with sodium in our bodies to regulate the body's waste balance, and normalize heart rhythms. Potassium aids in clear thinking by sending oxygen to the brain; preserves proper alkalinity of body fluids; stimulates the kidneys to eliminate poisonous body wastes; assists in reducing high blood pressure; promotes healthy skin. All of these are why, when your doctor adds diuretics or some specific medications like Inspra to your medications, he probably also adds a potassium tablet, or barring that, at least has you check your blood more times than you like.

Potassium must be balanced, though. Too much or too little can cause harm to your system and to you. Symptoms of too little potassium often include poor reflexes, nervous disorders, respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, muscle damage. If you have any signs of these, then you may want to call your doctor.

Potassium products used in cooking for low sodium diets include Featherweight Baking Powder, and Herb-ox Low-Sodium bullion (broth), as well as a few other substitute broths. It's also found as a substitute for the biting taste of salt in Ketchup, low sodium cheeses and other low sodium products. Featherweight is basically potassium bicarbonate, while Herb-Ox uses potassium chloride. Neither of these can be called "potassium salt." Potassium does not increase sodium levels but an increase in potassium in your diet should be discussed with your doctor before you add more. We recommend exchanging Ener-G Baking Powder for Featherweight that was listed in our recipes before the double-acting Ener-G Baking Powder was introduced. We recommend you exchange a homemade broth for Herb-Ox, which is exceptionally high in potassium chloride.

Salt (Iodized & Non Iodized)

Commercially marketed salt, including sea salt, and kosher salt is 99.9% pure sodium chloride (NaCL), with 2,350 mg of sodium per level teaspoon. The old "salt mines" still provide us some of our table salt. Sea salt is mined from the sea or from the ground in mines much deeper than tables salt mines. No matter which it is, however, each salt has the same level of sodium per teaspoon. Sea salt does not contain iodine. Some sea salt marketers add other elements such as Lycopene to help cut the salt (sodium) down per serving size and then claim that sea salt is lower in sodium. This marketing claim borders on consumer fraud.

The history of salt is interesting. Some theorize that salt was as important to our history lessons as were all of man's other achievements. Napoleon for instance is credited with creating the first "canned" foods for his army, a necessity for keeping his troops alive while marching on Russia. These processed cans of food contained a lot of salt for preservation of the food. Salt has been used for centuries to cure meat, but is no longer used for that since refrigeration replaced the need. Some religions still use salt in ceremonies as a token, or recognition of past rituals.

Today, we know that some of us just can't handle huge amounts of sodium. Salt is not sodium, but has a lot of sodium in it. We must watch out for the high-sodium that salt brings to us in packaged, canned, frozen, commercially prepared baked goods, and in dairy products, all of which have added salt for longer shelf lives and in some cases to add the bite of salt needed to "satisfy" our damaged palates. Salt, is not necessary in the baking of breads. Bread-rise is actually caused by a combination of yeast, sugar and in some cases citric or other acids. There are exceptions to this rule as we can expect. And in fact, salt does help with leavening when it's used, but a combination of other ingredients can achieve the same rise for bread. Salt's primary purpose in bread was and remains: lasting freshness, otherwise known as "longer shelf-life."

Some refer to other chemically produced products as salt, such as Potassium Chloride, and Potassium Bicarbonate products. The reference to this ingredient as "potassium salt" is misleading. Potassium added to products such as Featherweight Baking Powder and Herb-Ox broth, does not raise the level of sodium, but instead the levels of potassium.

Sea Salt
Sea salt is no different than table salt. 2,350 mg of sodium per teaspoon. Salt, is salt, is salt. It's the sodium in the salt that's dangerous for us. Some sea salt is artificially flavored. Claims that, "It's better for you," have not been scientifically proved. There are various brands on the market. Some have additives in order to dilute the sodium levels, but that doesn't do much other than require more of their product when used for flavoring or cooking. Some claim a difference in flavor. No matter, it's as dangerous to us as table salt.

Sodium Alginate
Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to attain a smooth mixture.

Sodium Benzoate
Essentially a preservative for condiments such as sauces, salad dressings and relishes.

Sodium Citrate
Antioxidant in baking soda.

Sodium Hydroxide
A food processor that softens and loosens skins of certain fruits, vegetables and ripe olives.

Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite
Use of this has been linked to some forms of cancer. This chemical is used to cure meats including sausages used in luncheon meats, hot dogs and other deli items.

Sodium Propionate
Used in breads, cakes and pasteurized cheese to inhibit mold growth.

Sodium Sulfite (sometimes spelled "sulphite.")
Used to bleach maraschino cherries and to glaze or crystallize fruits. Used as a preservative in some dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and pears. Note:The symbol for sodium is Na+, and can be found on many packaged items.

As of 2006, the AMA, NIH and ADA have stated rather firmly that for most healthy people, an intake of about 1,300 mg to 1,800 milligrams of sodium per day is considered reasonable - depending upon your weight, exercise and diet. (Source: National Institutes of Health. NIH and the American Medical Association.)

Only 144 mg to 180 mg of sodium a day are required by humans for norml function of the heart and other organs. This level of sodium helps maintain blood pressure, nerve function, normal muscle impulses and the body's correct balance of water and minerals. However, many people consume far more sodium than they need (Source: USDA Dietary Intake data). If we cut out all salt and eat a balanced diet, we'll get enough sodium for our bodies naturally. Nearly all food has some sodium in it.

For many of us, too much sodium in the diet may contribute to high blood pressure and fluid retention.

The salt shaker is only part of our high sodium intake. Many prepared foods use sodium as a preservative to maintain freshness and improve a food's texture and consistency. Foods that contribute to sodium in the diet include soups, pasta mixtures, French fries, chicken mixtures, rice or cooked grain mixtures and pizza. In addition, frozen dinners, processed meats, canned soups, canned vegetables, salted nuts, salted chips, and other snacks may have high sodium levels. Check the ingredient list for words such as salt, brine, broth, cured, corned, pickled and smoked. They all indicate a prominent presence of sodium.

Individuals who have been advised to limit their sodium intake should be aware that many over-the-counter (OTC) medications like antacids, headache remedies, and laxatives contain high levels of sodium. If you're concerned about the amount of sodium you may be consuming through prescribed medications, consult with your pharmacist or doctor.

A word about the "blood sodium" you see on your blood chemistry forms. Blood Sodium does not indicate what we are ingesting or the dietary sodium we are concerned about unless we get too little or far too much. The kidneys keep blood sodium constant within narrow limits, and they do it by dumping all surplus sodium into the urine. That is why a blood test tells you nothing about your dietary sodium intake except that you are getting enough. (My blood sodium has not wavered since 1997 when I first started my 500 mg a day of sodium program. A 24-hour urine collection may reveal that your sodium intake is excessive and that your kidneys are doing a lot of work to get rid of it. When the kidneys want help they have the ability to raise your blood pressure - the sodium leaves faster when that happens.

Drop Salt, Drop Weight

At our policy has been to stick with low sodium intake to help with hypertension, heart disease, Meniere's and other chronic illnesses that require a lower salt intake. But that doesn't slow us down when explaining that reducing salt often helps reduce weight.

When we cut salt out of our life, we no longer retain an excessive amount of body fluids, which contribute to high blood pressure among other challenges.

When many weight-loss programs advertise a guaranteed weight reduction within a short period of time it's usually never related to losing fat or calories but instead the shedding of body fluids. The meals they sell you are usually without added salt or at least they have very little salt added.

Stop the program and the weight returns.

It has been my opinion, based on thousands of letters and conversations with no-salt eaters, that high salt intake causes weight gain due to reasons other than salt itself. Where does most of the added salt in our diet come from? Two sources are at the top of the list. Restaurants and processed foods. Restaurants are generally not healthy, often serving high fat, high sodium meals. Processed foods are worse. Among those processed foods we can count on the "junk" food. And it is my opinion that for that reason alone, we have an obesity problem among the younger set these days. They have easy access to junk food in many schools through commercial coin operated dispensers, or are served processed foods in cafeterias and at home, such as pizzas, hot dogs, etc.

Processed foods are high in fat, low in fiber, high in sodium and low in vitamins and other nutrients. The processed foods have been boiled, broiled, baked, cooked beyond flavor and then salted to mask the absence of natural flavors. Added to them are such items as high fructose corn syrup (check all ingredient labels for this disastrous ingredient), salt, oils (even hydrogenated oils), which when added together add up to UN-healthy.

The reason no-salt eaters lose weight then, is because we don't eat junk food (too much sodium), processed foods, (too much sodium and too many added fats), but instead, we eat fresh foods, and avoid saturated as well as partially hydrogenated fats.

As Dr. Fowler explains in his section of Living Well Without Salt, our body relies on electrolytes to move electrical impulses that control our heart and other body functions. Those electrolytes are essentially from sodium and potassium. However, we can get too much of either and we can also get too little. The human body needs only 144 to 180 mg a day of sodium at minimum levels. We probably should not ingest more than 1300 mg a day of sodium.

It is important that our blood sodium and our potassium remain at relatively even levels. Blood sodium, however, is not related especially to dietary sodium. For instance, I have consumed no more than 500 mg of sodium for fourteen years as of this writing and my blood sodium level has never changed. It was 134 before I started this program and it's 134 now. Actually, a few years ago I tested my reaction to increased sodium by jumping it up to a thousand a day. I didn't handle the added sodium well so the test lasted only a week. However, at the end of that week I had a blood test and the blood sodium level had not moved at all.

Dr. Trevor Beard points out in his book "Salt Matters," that added salt makes us thirstier, thereby bringing on a condition we really don't want: more body fluids that simply don't expel since the higher sodium levels cause retention. But your friendly saloon operator likes the concept so well he'll leave all those free salted peanuts and pretzels out there for you to enjoy. Eat one and it's "Bartender, one more, please." Beard also states emphatically that high sodium sports drinks actually are more harmful to athletes than helpful. Drink just water while playing hard and your endurance lasts longer. Drink high sodium fluids and your endurance fades.