Talk to Your Patients About Sodium

By Karin Krisher

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all sorts of things, including appropriate levels of nutrient intake. For sodium, the recommended daily intake for anyone not at-risk for hypertension is 2300 milligrams, while for at-risk people, that number is just 1,500. Still, despite recommendations and warnings to the contrary, over the past 50 years the average American’s sodium intake has remained unchanged, hovering around 3700 milligrams daily.

That’s about double what we believe to be healthy. We all know that sodium can contribute to hypertension and heart disease. Therefore, it’s a common belief that sodium consumption alone can be a cause of death (or at the very least that cutting sodium alone could prevent early death). In fact, The British Medical Journal reported a 25 to 30 percent decrease in heart disease risk with sodium intake reduction.

Most of us also know that sodium can contribute to weight gain by causing the body to retain water to flush out excess sodium (which never actually occurs when excess does exist). Because obesity causes heart disease and hypertension, excess sodium consumption is a less than desirable habit.

Salt is one of the main human tastes. People crave it. Historically, people have fought for it, transported it, sold it, loved it, died for it. So how do we talk about cutting out sodium sources?

Honestly. One thing your patients will need to know is that this journey won’t be easy.

According to Amanda Gardner at, “The fact is, experts say, the American palate has become so accustomed to the high levels of sodium and salt added to our meals that the only way to kick the habit may be to wean ourselves off it slowly.”

Therefore, The Institute of Medicine has recommended to the FDA that it cut sodium levels in processed foods gradually. It might not be a good idea to wait that long, so talking to your patients today (or at your next appointment) is crucial.

If your patient already lives a fairly balanced, healthy lifestyle, give them these tips to help them on their way to serious sodium reduction. (If you patient eats only fast food, the discussion might need to be bigger than this.)

1. Sea salt can help. The flavor is more potent than table salt flavor, helping us use less.

2. Try replacing canned veggies with frozen ones, and rinsing fresh veggies every time.

4. Know what to look for in a label. Specifically, know the difference between lower sodium and low sodium.

5. Hide the saltshakers in a cabinet far away during dinner.

6. Try some new herb combinations in your meals instead of salt and pepper.

7. Nix cured deli meats for the daily sandwich.

8. Write it down. Have your patients jot down each measurement available, along with the foods they consumed that may have contributed some sodium.

It’s important to your and your patients’ total wellness that sodium content be part of their main diet considerations. Help them get started with a new pattern of thought today.

Have you taken the steps to reduce your personal sodium intake? What habits did you try to pick up or leave behind? Share your story on our Facebook page!