Learn To Spot Excess Sodium on Nutrition Labels

Since most of the salt we eat comes from packaged and processed foods, it's important to read the Nutrition Facts label so you can choose products with less sodium. This label lists not only the number of milligrams of sodium per serving but also the percent Daily Value (% DV)—how much sodium a serving of the food contributes to the daily limit.

Keep in mind: A serving is often smaller than what people typically eat in a single sitting, and the % DV is based on a daily limit of 2,400 mg of sodium and will be an underestimate of the % DV if your goal is less than 1,500 mg.

Foods like jarred spaghetti sauces, canned vegetables, luncheon meats, soups, pickles, olives, and condiments tend to have the highest sodium contents, but there's variation among brands. Canned soups, for instance, can contain from 280 to 980 mg of sodium per serving depending on the brand. Frozen pizza ranges from 375 to 780 mg per slice. Higher-sodium varieties don't always taste saltier, so check the label. Also, non-salty-tasting foods like breads, breakfast cereals, and cakes can be high in sodium, too.

Some products market themselves as low or no sodium and are your best bets when you do opt for ready-made foods. Here's how those terms translate into actual amounts of sodium:

  • Sodium-free —less than 5 mg per serving
  • Very low-sodium —35 mg or less per serving
  • Low-sodium —140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium —usual sodium level reduced by 25%
  • Unsalted, no salt added, or without added salt—made without the salt that's normally used but still contains naturally occurring salt.

Publication Review By: Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D. and Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 15 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 10 Jul 2013