High-sodium diets present special risks for people with diabetes

The typical American diet is very high in sodium, which has been linked to a number of health problems. And for people with diabetes, sodium in their diet presents special risks.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is more prevalent among people with diabetes, and a high-sodium diet increases that risk. The chances of diabetic retinopathy progression, too, are increased when people with type 1 diabetes consume large amounts of salt and other forms of sodium, according to a recent study.

The 2010 dietary guidelines from the USDA recommend that people consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. African Americans, people older than 51, and people with hypertension, kidney disease or diabetes should limit themselves to 1,500 mg of sodium per day, which is a little more than a half teaspoon of salt.

The American Heart Association, however, has gone one step farther, recommending that all adults limit their daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less, regardless of health status or other factors.

Sodium: The Secret Ingredient

You can try removing the saltshaker from your table, but there are hidden sources of sodium in lots of foods. These high-sodium foods include:

  • Processed meats like bacon, ham, sausage, cold cuts and hot dogs
  • Fish that is canned, frozen, breaded or smoked
  • Snack foods like crackers, pretzels and potato chips
  • Canned soups, vegetables and vegetable juices
  • Packaged foods like frozen entrees, TV dinners and macaroni and cheese
  • Baked goods like cookies and doughnuts
  • Cheese, pickles and olives
  • Condiments like soy sauce, ketchup and salad dressings

Another area of concern for people with diabetes—and anyone else who’s concerned about sodium—is restaurant food. Fast food establishments and fine restaurants alike often use a free hand when it comes to adding salt to foods, many of which come packaged from restaurant suppliers and already contain high amounts of sodium.

How to Lower Your Sodium Intake

If you have diabetes and are looking to lower the amount of sodium in your diet, try the following tips:

  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned "no salt added" vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish and meats.
  • Use herbs and salt-free seasoning blends.
  • Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt.
  • Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths, and salad dressings.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium.
  • Buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added fo
  • Choose breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
  • Ask for appetizers and entrees with no or low salt at restaurants and take-out venues.

When you buy prepared and packaged foods, read the labels. The sodium content is listed in milligrams on the Nutrition Facts panel. Also check the ingredient list for words such as "soda" (referring to sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda), "sodium" and the symbol "Na" to see if the food product contains sodium. Some medications also contain high amounts of sodium.


American Heart Association

"High caloric and sodium intakes as risk factors for progression of retinopathy in type 1 diabetes mellitus.” Roy, M. and Janal, M. Archives of Opthalmology. 2010 Aug;128(8):1085.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 09 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 14 May 2015