Most Americans are consuming too much sodium, and it's likely harming our health

By Natasha Persaud

Are we addicted to sodium? According to a 2012 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost all of us—9 in 10 adults in the United States—are getting far more sodium from our diets than is recommended.

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In just one day, the average American consumes about 3,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium—nearly 50 percent more than the daily recommended allowance of 2,300 mg and more than twice the 1,500 mg limit for 3 out of 5 of us.

Nora Keenan, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with CDC's division for heart disease and stroke prevention, coauthored an eye-opening 2009 report that found most of us need to cut back on sodium for our health. We talked with her to learn about our sodium problem and how to fix it.

What's causing the sodium overload?

According to the 2012 report by the CDC, Americans consume up to 65 percent of their sodium from processed foods from the grocery store and 25 percent from restaurant meals. The salt shaker on the table isn't the problem.

More than 40 percent of our daily sodium intake comes from the following 10 types of foods, in descending order:

1. Breads and rolls (partly due to the amount eaten)

2. Cold cuts and cured meats, such as deli or packaged ham or turkey

3. Pizza

4. Poultry

5. Soups

6. Sandwiches such as cheeseburgers

7. Cheese

8. Pasta dishes (excluding macaroni and cheese)

9. Dishes containing meat, such as meat loaf with tomato sauce

10. Savory snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn

You might be surprised to find foods that otherwise seem healthy on the list, such as turkey breast. Some varieties may contain high levels of sodium. Other foods that you eat several times a day, such as bread, add up to a lot of sodium even though each serving may not be high in sodium.

Reproduced from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Additional Sources:

CDC. "Vital Signs: Food Categories Contributing the Most to Sodium Consumption — United States, 2007–2008" Available at Accessed on: February 10, 2012.

FDA. "Code of Federal Regulations Title 21." Available at Accessed on February 15, 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 01 May 2009

Last Modified: 21 Jan 2015