What is sodium?
Sodium is a nutrient that's essential to maintaining human health. It:
- regulates water balance
- maintains blood volume
- controls muscle and nerve function
- helps to maintain our body temperature.
People must eat small amounts of sodium regularly to stay healthy. But too much can be bad for you.
About 90% of the sodium in our diet comes from salt (sodium chloride).
Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride – so a food's sodium and salt levels will not be the same. For example, a food with 2.5 grams of salt has 1 gram of sodium.
Sodium in food
Sodium is added to foods in the form of salt to:
- enhance flavour
- prevent spoiling
- improve texture and appearance.
Sodium and health
People who eat too much sodium have a greater risk of developing diseases of the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.
The Ministry of Health recommends that adults limit sodium intake to 2 grams a day. That's equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt. Children need less sodium.
While you should limit how much salt you eat, you should use iodised salt in cooking or at the table to ensure you get enough iodine.
Most New Zealanders consume more salt than is recommended. Often this is from processed and pre-prepared foods.
The food industry has been reducing salt in many products to bring down sodium levels. But levels are still high in many processed foods. This is true even for those that may not taste salty – for example, breakfast cereals.
How to eat less sodium
To reduce your sodium intake, the Ministry of Health recommends:
- choosing wholefoods
- eating less processed foods
- using less salt when cooking, or on top of finished meals.
Avoid high-sodium foods
Foods with more than 600 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams are considered high-sodium foods. These include:
- savoury snacks (such as crisps)
- processed meats like bacon, sausages, ham, and canned corned beef
- stocks and sauces – such as tomato and soy sauce
- fast foods.
Check food labels
Nutrition panels on foods list the amount of sodium in each serving and per 100 grams. Use this information to compare similar foods and make the best choice.
Food labels may also make claims about a product's sodium levels. If the label says:
- low sodium or low salt – the product must have no more than 120 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams
- reduced sodium or reduced salt – the product must have at least 25% less sodium/salt than a comparable food.
Who to contact
If you have questions about sodium in food, email firstname.lastname@example.org