Sodium (Salt)

What is sodium?

Sodium is one of the two electrolytes found in salt. Sodium plays many important roles in the way our bodies function.

The sodium found naturally in foods is plenty to maintain healthy levels in our body. However, we add salt while we cook, while we eat, and it is added to many processed foods. This can lead to eating too much salt. Having too much salt in your food can lead to high blood pressure, which is the second leading cause of kidney disease.

High-sodium foods and kidney disease

Salt makes you thirsty and can make your body retain fluid. Having more fluid in your body can raise your blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure, your kidneys must work harder to filter blood. Over time, this can lead to kidney damage.

Too much fluid in your body also puts more strain on your heart, lowers your protein levels, and leads to difficulty breathing. Taking steps to limit excess fluid buildup, and thereby controlling blood pressure, is vital to improving your health.

If you have high blood pressure, eating a low or no added salt diet can help to lower it. Increasing your daily physical activity and taking blood pressure medicines if prescribed by your doctor are other ways to manage your blood pressure. Taking steps to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level may help keep kidney disease from getting worse.

Watch our videos on the role of sodium (salt) and fluid in contributing to heart disease among patients with kidney disease.

Foods with added salt

Unless specifically marked as low-salt or low sodium, the following foods and drinks usually have added salt:

  • Canned foods like tomatoes, beans, corn, etc.
  • Frozen dinners and snacks
  • Fast foods
  • Ice cream
  • Sport drinks
  • Sodas
  • Snacks like chips, pretzels, and nuts
  • Seasoning salt like garlic salt or celery salt
  • Spice blends (look for the word sodium or salt on the label)

Avoid salt substitute products that say “no salt” or “new salt.” These are made with potassium, contain 800 mg of potassium per ¼ teaspoon, and can raise your potassium to a possibly dangerous levels.

Tips for keeping a low-salt diet

  • Choose no salt added canned foods (only if you do not need to limit potassium)
  • Add Mrs. Dash® instead of salt while cooking or at the table
  • Use herbs and spices for flavor while cooking
  • Cook at home
  • Avoid fried foods (the breading has salt and many times fried foods are salted right out of the fryer)
  • Drink water (soda and sports drinks have added salt)
  • Choose no salt added snacks (like no salt pretzels)
  • When eating out, choose foods that are steamed and grilled instead of fried or blackened
  • When eating out, ask the server to ask the chef not to add salt to the dish
  • Choose from the “diet” menu at Chinese restaurants