8 Easy Ways to Cut Your Daily Sodium Intake

These changes have big benefits and keep your food flavorful

spilled glass salt shaker on black background Photo: Getty Images

You probably already know that you should keep an eye on your daily sodium intake, especially if you have high blood pressure. But the health risks of getting too much of the salty stuff are back in the spotlight. The Food and Drug Administration recently issued guidelines encouraging manufacturers to scale back the amount of sodium they use in packaged and restaurant foods.

While this guidance is voluntary, its goal is to reduce the average daily sodium intake by about 12 percent—from the 3,400 mg that people in the U.S. typically get to 3,000 mg—over the next 2½ years. While that’s still more than the recommended threshold of 2,300 mg, it’s a step in the right direction, says Anne Thorndike, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and volunteer chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee.

Much of the sodium that people take in—over 70 percent—comes from packaged and processed foods and restaurant meals. So if many companies follow these guidelines, it could have a significant impact on heart health, Thorndike says.

The Salt Effect

Despite what you may have heard about sodium getting an unfair shake, a majority of evidence shows that cutting back protects your health.

That’s because eating too much can increase blood volume, elevating blood pressure and forcing your heart to work harder, says Julia Zumpano, RD, with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. That raises the risk for stroke and heart disease.

In fact, a study published in 2014 from Tufts University in Boston showed that 1 in 10 cardiovascular-related deaths worldwide is due at least in part to a high-sodium diet. And according to a study of more than 10,000 people published in 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine, every 1,000 mg of sodium excreted in urine (which represents intake) increases cardiovascular disease risk by 18 percent.

Shake It Off

That said, finding a balance between less salt and tasty food can be tricky. Salt has a unique taste that’s hard to mimic, says Carolyn F. Ross, PhD, a professor of food science at Washington State University in Pullman.

What’s more, sodium is found in foods where you might not expect it, like cereal and bread. These expert tips can help you reduce your daily sodium intake.

Take a tally. “Write down how much sodium you’re getting from foods throughout the day,” Zumpano suggests. This allows you to spot the top culprits and choose where to cut back. You might decide, for instance, that you can’t sacrifice salting your eggs but you’re okay snacking on unsalted almonds (0 mg of sodium per ounce) instead of pretzels (about 350 mg of sodium per ounce) or opting for reduced-sodium soy sauce.

More on Healthy Eating

Train your taste buds. According to the FDA, people typically don’t notice small reductions—about 10 percent—in sodium. Sprinkle a little less salt onto every meal, and gradually lower that amount even more. Over time, your tastes and preferences can change, so you won’t need as much salt to feel satisfied, Ross says.

• Upgrade your salt. Ounce for ounce, table, kosher, and sea salt have the about the same sodium count. But the last two often have larger crystals that take up more volume on a measuring spoon, so you wind up getting less sodium in recipes. Another smart move: Use a saltshaker with smaller holes. That slows the flow so you’ll use less salt overall, Ross says.

• Swap in salt substitutes. These products add either saltiness or enough of a savory flavor called umami so you don’t miss the salt. In a 2021 New England Journal of Medicine study of almost 21,000 older adults with hypertension or a history of stroke, half used a substitute made from 75 percent salt and 25 percent potassium chloride. After about five years, those who cooked and seasoned with the substitute were 13 to 14 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared with those who used salt. As for taste, check out the results of a blind taste test of six popular salt substitutes by a Consumer Reports panel of sensory experts.

• Skip salt as you cook. Salt gets incorporated into the food, which means you might not taste it that much in the final product, Ross says. Instead, sprinkle it on right before serving. When you add it at the end, the crystals rest on top of the food. The salt hits your tongue, so you’re better able to taste it—and won’t need as much.

• Perk up food with spices, herbs, and aromatics. They add flavor and disease-fighting antioxidants with little sodium, Zumpano says. According to research published in 2015 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who cooked with herbs and spices significantly reduced their daily sodium intake. Experiment with garlic, onion, fresh and dried herbs, and seasoning blends. “In recipes, you can replace a half or full teaspoon of salt with an herb blend,” Ross says. An acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, can also brighten the flavor of a dish.

• Spot hidden sodium sources. Manufacturers add sodium to food you might not expect it to be in to enhance flavors and textures, and act as a preservative. “The sodium in processed and packaged foods can really add up throughout the day,” Thorndike says. A slice of bread, for instance, can have 240 mg, or about 10 percent of the recommended daily sodium intake. Certain cereals deliver more than 300 mg in a serving, and pasta sauces contain upward of 500 mg per half-cup. When grocery shopping, check labels to see how much sodium an item is packing.

• Decode claims. “Light in sodium” means a product has at least 50 percent less than its original or a competing one, while “reduced sodium” means it has at least 25 percent less. But even with the reduction, the sodium content can still be high, Zumpano says. Better options: Low sodium (140 mg or less per serving), very low sodium (35 mg or less), sodium-free (less than 5 mg), and no salt added (no salt, but not necessarily a low-sodium food).

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the February 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.

Sharon Liao

Sharon Liao

Sharon Liao is a writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness. She lives in Redondo Beach, Calif.