“Salt and Sodium” Confusion: Know the Connection

It’s a common misconception that “sodium” and “salt” are the same thing. You would often find most often many use these words interchangeably.

Let’s see how these two items are different and connected with each other.

Actually “salt” refers to the crystal-like chemical compound known as sodium chloride. The “Sodium”  of salt refers to the dietary mineral nutrient ” sodium”.

Salt Basics:

The salt here refers to cooking salt, which we add to our food. It is one of the oldest and most widely used seasonings to add taste to the food.  Archaeologists have found evidence of salt production that goes back as far as 8,000 years.

Saltiness is one of the five primary basic tastes the human tongue can detect.

What is the chemical composition of table salt?

Table salt is chemically a compound of sodium. The chemical name of table salt is sodium chloride. It contains 40% sodium and 60% chloride by weight.

What is sodium?

It is a mineral element present naturally in food. We find sodium in the processed foods as they contain added salt and sodium-containing compounds.

In human nutrition, sodium is one of the essential mineral nutrients. Sodium plays an important role in cell function, blood pressure control, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. It is essential for keeping body fluids stay balanced.

Although sodium is essential for keeping the body functioning optimally the body cannot produce its own sodium. Therefore like other nutrients, we need to get sodium through the food.

. Your body takes in sodium through the foods you eat and eliminates extra sodium in perspiration and urine.

How much sodium do we need per day?

We need sodium in small amounts for normal health. The safe recommended intake of sodium for healthy adults is 2.3 g per day.

To get 2.3 g of sodium one has to consume 1 teaspoon of salt (6g).

Eating too much sodium can lead to health problems. The health risks of high sodium intake include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. For that reason,  the recommended daily sodium intake is less than 1.5 g for those who are at risk for developing health issues.

Salt is the major source of sodium in our diet.

Natural foods are generally low in sodium content.

Eg: Sodium content in 100g of different food groups :

  • Cereals 1.5-75 mg
  • Pulses1.5-27 mg
  • Greens 10-53mg, but beet greens has 111 mg
  • Roots 4-60mg
  • Other vegetable:0.5-53mg
  • Fruits 1-15mg
  • Nuts 1.3-33mg
  • Milk(Cow) 25mg; Cottage Cheese 18mg;Egg(50g) 63mg

So natural foods obviously do not meet our sodium requirement. Therefore salt forms the main source of sodium when we use salt in our diet, about 90% of the sodium we consume comes from salt. 1g of table salt has 0.393g of sodium.

Why processed foods contain more sodium?

Sodium plays many roles on your plate.  Foods that are high in sodium include processed meats, some canned foods, cheeses, bread, cereals, sauces, pickled foods, commercial rice or pasta mixes, and condiments.

Commercially processed foods contain more sodium, in the form of added preservatives, taste enhancers, etc., in addition to the salt used in the processed.

Sodium content  mg in 10z(28.4g)  in some popular proceed foods

  • Bread:  95-210
  • Potato chips: 105-180
  • Processed Cheese:247
  • Salad dressing: 304
  • Pretzel: 322
  • Pickle: 250-565
  • Dried meat: 620

Thus, those who eat these foods daily, have to watch their daily sodium intake as not to exceed 2.3 g/day.

Certain sodium compounds are used as food additives- preservatives, emulsifiers acid stabilizers, leavening agents, and flavor enhancers, etc.

Some of the common sodium compounds in use in processed foods include:

  • Sodium bicarbonate(Baking soda) is a leavening agent, used in bakery industries
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)- common food additive used to intensify and enhance the flavor of savory dishes
  • Sodium benzoate is a common preservative used in carbonated drinks and fruit juices

What is the source of confusion between salt & sodium?

A high sodium intake is a health concern for all.  Salt is the main source of dietary sodium. As salt is an ingredient that one can control easily. By controlling salt intake one can control sodium intake. Therefore, to make it easy for the patients to remember the connection between sodium and salt, health care workers use these two words interchangeably.

I am sure by now you know, that the terms sodium and salt do not mean the same. Sodium is a component of salt and salt is the source of sodium. Thus as there is a difference in the meaning, from now onwards, you may not interchange the words “salt” and “sodium”.