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Food and Nutrition

Sodium in Canada

Canadians eat about 3400 mg of sodium each day. This is more than double the amount we need.

Sodium is an essential nutrient found in salt and many foods. Our bodies need a small amount of sodium to be healthy, but too much can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Sodium intake has also been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, stomach cancer and severity of asthma.

What we are doing

The federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments are committed to helping create conditions that make the healthier choice the easier choice. Sodium reduction is an important part of healthy living and the governments have been working together towards supporting Canadians in their sodium reduction efforts. The goal is to work towards reducing the average sodium intake of Canadians to 2300 mg per day by 2016.

With this goal in mind, the government is:

Background

On average, Canadians are consuming too much sodium without understanding the risks to their health. Canadians should lower their sodium intakes, as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart and kidney disease.

Sodium and health

Recommended intake of sodium

It is recommended that people over the age of one year eat between 1000-1500 mg sodium per day. This is referred to as the Adequate Intake (AI).

People aged 14 and over should not eat more than 2300 mg sodium per day. This is referred to the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). A sodium intake above 2300 mg per day is likely to pose a health risk.

Table 1: Recommended intake for sodium
Healthy... should aim for the Adequate Intake (AI) of without going over the Upper Limit (UL) of
Infants 0-6 months 120 mg/day No data
Infants 7-12 months 370 mg/day No data
Children 1-3 years 1000 mg/day 1500 mg/day
Children 4-8 years 1200 mg/day 1900 mg/day
Teens 9-13 years 1500 mg/day 2200 mg/day
Adults 14-50 years 1500 mg/day 2300 mg/day
Older adults 51-70 years 1300 mg/day
Older adults over 70 years 1200 mg/day
Pregnancy 1500 mg/day

Sodium intake in Canada

Results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2.2 show that, among people aged 9 to 70, over 85% of men and 60% to 80% of women had sodium intakes exceeding the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). Similar high intakes are seen in young children: 77% of children aged 1 to 3 years and 93% of children aged 4 to 8 years exceed the UL for sodium. Actual sodium consumption is estimated to be even higher because people tend to underestimate the quantities on self-reported surveys.

Figure 1: Average usual intakes from food

The average usual sodium intakes from food sources for different age and gender groups, as well as the percentage of each group with intakes above the UL are shown below. Almost the entire Canadian population has intakes above the AI.

(Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.2, Nutrition (2004))

Figure 2: Major food group contributors to sodium intake

The pie chart below illustrates the major contributors of dietary sodium in the Canadian diet.

(Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.2, Nutrition (2004))

Note that some of these foods are high in sodium but consumed in lower amounts, like processed meats and gravies and sauces, while others are lower in sodium but are eaten in higher amounts, like breads.

Benefits of sodium reduction

A 2009 study of 177 025 participants showed that Next link will take you to another Web site high sodium intake significantly increased the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. High sodium intakes have also been associated with:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • vascular and cardiac damage independent of high blood pressure
  • detrimental effects on calcium and bone metabolism
  • increased risk of stomach cancer
  • severity of asthma

In children, high sodium intake has been associated with:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • development of high blood pressure (hypertension) later in life
  • a tendency for children to prefer foods with high salt content due to suppressed salt taste receptors

Dietary sodium reduction is a cost-effective and efficient way to reduce cardiovascular disease. In Canada, it has been estimated that if the average sodium intake is decreased by 1840 mg a day, high blood pressure prevalence would decrease by 30%. This would result in approximately one million fewer Canadians with high blood pressure and direct annual cost savings of $430 million due to fewer physician visits, laboratory tests and medication. This reduction would also prevent an estimated 23,500 cardiovascular disease events per year in Canada-a decrease of 13% over current numbers, with an additional $949 million annually in direct savings.

Overall, reducing sodium intake by 1,800 mg per person per day would result in direct health care savings of $1.38 billion per year, and if indirect costs were included the savings would be $2.99 billion per year. It should be noted that these calculations are based on 1993 costs and are likely much greater in current dollars.

Additional reading

Contact us: sodium@hc-sc.gc.ca