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Decoding Sodium Labels

By Susan Svencer, MPH

Sodium is the main ingredient in salt. Too much sodium can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. And believe it or not, the salt from our salt shakers isn’t the biggest culprit. Nearly all (80%!) of our sodium intake comes from the pre-packaged, processed, and prepared foods from stores and restaurants. This is why it is so important to check and compare food labels for low sodium.

However, labels aren’t always easy to read, and words can be deceiving. Walking through the grocery store, you have probably noticed a lot of your favorite food products are now offered in different “low sodium” options. I am the first to admit that making sense of sodium can get a bit grainy. Getting familiar with this label lingo can help you decide what the heck to choose on your next trip to the grocer:

  • A low sodium product contains 140 mg or less per serving.
  • A very low sodium product contains 35 mg or less per serving.
  • A sodium free product contains less than 5 mg (milligrams) per serving.

“Reduced” is another word that can throw some people for a loop. Just because something has “reduced” sodium, doesn’t always mean its low in sodium when compared to other foods or brands. Foods marked “light” or “reduced” sodium could still pack a lot of sodium. Who knows how much sodium was in the original version before it was reduced.

  • A reduced/less sodium product has been reduced 25% per serving from the original level.
  • A light in sodium product has been reduced by at least 50% per serving.
  • A light reduced/less sodium product has been reduced 50% per serving AND the food is low-calorie or low-fat.

Like I said, all these labels can get confusing. So when in doubt, compare brands. Two foods that seem almost the same may have very different sodium levels. Compare food labels, and choose the brand with less sodium.

For more information about salt, sodium levels, and your health, visit www.mass.gov/dph/salt.

Let BID-Milton's Nutrition Staff help you understand how food and nutrition affect your overall health and well being.  Call 617-296-4819 to learn more.

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