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JAMA Patient Page
August 16, 2016

Dietary Guidelines for Americans—Eat Less Salt

JAMA. 2016;316(7):782. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0970

New US dietary guidelines have been designed to help Americans choose and maintain a healthy diet.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans were updated by the US Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture in 2016. The guidelines are intended to help Americans make healthier food and beverage choices to help prevent common diseases such as hypertension and heart disease. A summary of these guidelines was published in the February 2, 2016, issue of JAMA.

What Is Sodium?

Sodium is a mineral that is regularly added to foods for flavoring and preservation. It is a critical mineral for the human body; the nervous and cardiovascular systems cannot operate properly without it. However, most Americans consume too much sodium.

Consuming too much sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart (cardiovascular) disease. These risks increase with age. Reducing sodium in the diet can reduce the risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

The Dietary Guidelines

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting intake of sodium to less than 2300 mg per day. For people with prehypertension and hypertension, the guidelines recommend further reducing sodium intake to 1500 mg per day. Reducing sodium can lower blood pressure even if you do not always reach the 1500-mg-per-day goal. As a reference point, a half teaspoon of table salt contains about 1200 mg of sodium.

Sources of Sodium in the Diet

Although the salt shaker is a source of extra sodium in the diet, most extra sodium comes from processed and ready-made foods. The illustration lists common restaurant foods, fast foods, and store-bought processed and shelf-stable foods that are high in sodium.

Following the Guidelines

  • Prepare your own meals. Restaurant food tends to be higher in sodium compared with home-cooked meals. Increase the number of meals you prepare and eat at home as a general approach to reducing sodium intake.

  • Explore new flavors. People learn to like saltier foods by eating them frequently. You can learn to like foods that taste less salty—try alternative flavorings to salt such as fresh herbs or garlic.

  • Compare and swap. Look for lower-sodium alternatives to higher-sodium foods at the grocery store. Always check the Nutrition Facts label; if there is more than 150 mg of sodium per serving, look for a lower-sodium version. This also applies to canned food like soups, beans, and vegetables and processed meats like bacon.

  • Reduce the amount of bread, chips, and crackers you eat. Even though they may not taste salty, store-bought breads, chips and crackers, and ready-made sandwiches and pizzas contribute large amounts of sodium to the diet. Some breads have 230 mg of sodium per serving—10% of the daily value in just 1 slice. Use the Nutrition Facts label to identify breads with less than 150 mg of sodium per slice and be aware of portion sizes so you do not overeat.

  • Shop the perimeter of the store. The foods that are highest in sodium are usually found on the interior aisles of the grocery store. Shop from the perimeter of the store, where the healthiest foods—vegetables and fruits in particular—are found.

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For More Information

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
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Article Information

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: The authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

Topic: Diet and Nutrition