This article was produced in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
It's Your Health
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Sodium is a nutrient found in table salt and many other foods. Your body needs some sodium to function, but too much may lead to high blood pressure (a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease). Most Canadians take in more than twice the amount of sodium they need in a day.
Some sodium is needed in your body to regulate fluids and blood pressure, and to keep muscles and nerves running smoothly. Healthy adults need only 1500 mg of sodium each day. Healthy children need only 1000-1500 mg of sodium a day. This is known as the Adequate Intake (AI).
People aged 14 and over should eat no more than 2300 mg of sodium each day. This is known as the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). A sodium intake above 2300 mg a day is likely to present a health risk.
|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|
It is estimated that Canadians one year of age and older eat an average of about 3400 mg/day of sodium. This is more than twice the recommended AI of 1500 mg/day for individuals from 9 to 70 years, and 50% more than the UL for adults of 2300 mg/day. Actual sodium consumption is likely to be even higher because people tend to underestimate how much they eat on self-reported food intake surveys such as those on which this estimate was based.
Children need less sodium than their parents. However, due to the types of food we choose to eat at home and in restaurants, both children and adults often eat unhealthy levels of sodium.
Processed foods (including restaurant and fast foods) account for 77% of the sodium we eat. Another 12% is found naturally in foods, 6% we add at the table, and 5% we add during cooking. So 88% of all the sodium in our diet is not present naturally: it is added during food manufacturing or preparation.
Approximately 30% of our sodium comes from mixed dishes (examples of these include: macaroni and cheese, lasagne, beef stew, scalloped potatoes, seasoned or flavoured rices); 14% from bread and bread-type products; 9% from processed meats like deli meats and seasoned meats; 7% from soups; 5% from cheeses; 4% from milk products; and 4% from gravies and sauces.
In adults, a diet high in sodium can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.
In children, high sodium intake can lead to increased risk of high blood pressure, the development of high blood pressure later in life, and the tendency for children to prefer foods with high salt content.
The good news is, if Canadians reduce their sodium intake, their blood pressure is likely to decrease.
Use the Sodium Detector to find out how much sodium is in the foods you eat.
Make wise choices from the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide
Sodium reduction can best be achieved if everyone plays a role, including individual Canadians, the food industry, governments and healthcare organizations. The Government of Canada, in partnership with other stakeholders, supports Canadians in their sodium reduction efforts. Federal, provincial and territorial governments and stakeholders are working together to reduce sodium through public awareness and education activities to assist individuals to make informed food choices, guidance to the food industry on reducing sodium in processed foods, and research to learn more about sodium and health. The goal is for Canadians to lower their average daily sodium intake by just over 30% (to 2300 mg or less a day) by 2016.
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*
Updated: June 2012
Original: February 2009
Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2012
Catalogue # H13-7/71-2012E-PDF
ISBN # 978-1-100-20374-4