Sodium Rich Foods: Balance Your Salt Intake

It’s not an understatement to say that sodium is essential for life.  In fact, sodium is arguably the most critical essential mineral.

While we often hear about the risks of consuming too much salt, your healthy appetite for sodium generally ensures you get as much as you need.  Subsequently, adding ‘salt to taste’ is a good rule of thumb. 

Most people get plenty of sodium from processed food, which contains added salt to make you eat more.  However, you may need to pay more attention to your intake of sodium and other electrolytes when you reduce processed foods in your diet. 

In this article, we’ll show you which foods and recipes contain the most and the least sodium using the tools and charts we used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.

High Sodium Foods (Per Serving)                   

If you find yourself falling short of the recommended sodium intake, it’s time to focus on foods that pack in more sodium per serving.  

To help you get started, the infographic below shows the sodium provided by popular foods in the average serving sizes consumed by our Optimisers.  

high sodium foods (per serving)

Foods that are rich in sodium include smoked meats, cured meats, salted nuts, pickled foods, salty condiments, and salty snacks.

Once you’re ready to revitalise your diet with a wider variety of high-sodium foods, download our printable list of foods with more sodium per serving here.

Sodium Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Once you know you’re getting the minimum amount of sodium your body needs, you can zero in on foods that deliver more sodium per calorie to increase your satiety and nutrient density.  The infographic below shows popular foods rich in sodium that deliver more sodium per calorie.

sodium rich foods (per calorie)

For more variety, check out our printable list of sodium rich foods per calorie.

Sodium Food Chart

Curious about how your favourite foods stack up in the sodium game?  Dive into our dynamic chart showcasing popular foods, comparing sodium content per calorie and per serving.  For an immersive experience, explore the interactive Tableau version (on your computer).

Sodium Food Chart

How Much Sodium Do You Need? 

Our satiety analysis reveals that your body craves at least 2,900 mg of sodium per 2000 calories, which is less than the Dietary Reference Intake of 2300 mg for men. 

As you can see in the chart below, foods with more sodium tend to align with eating less.  When you’ve got enough sodium in your diet, foods with more sodium quickly taste ‘too salty’.  However, because we have such a strong conscious craving for sodium, most people don’t need to prioritise sodium if they are salting their food to taste.  

How Much Sodium Do You Need? 

Sodium Recipes

Elevate your culinary game with our chart, showcasing over 1400 NutriBooster recipes used in our Micros Masterclass.  We’ve plotted these recipes based on sodium content versus protein percentage.  The further right you go, the more sodium you can enjoy with fewer calories.

Sodium Recipes

Dive into the details with our interactive Tableau chart on your computer.  Click on each recipe to uncover the magic behind it and even feast your eyes on mouthwatering pictures!

Photos of Sodium Recipes

Benefits of Sodium

Sodium is an essential mineral that is important for human health. Understanding the importance of sodium can guide you in selecting sodium rich foods.

  • Regulates fluid balance: Sodium plays a vital role in regulating the amount of fluid in the body.  It helps maintain the balance of fluids between the cells and the surrounding tissues.
  • Maintains blood pressure: Sodium works with other minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, to help regulate blood pressure.  Adequate sodium intake can help prevent high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Supports nerve and muscle function: Sodium is necessary for proper nerve and muscle function.  It helps transmit nerve impulses and aids in muscle contraction and relaxation.
  • Enhances nutrient absorption: Sodium helps the body absorb certain nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids.
  • Balances pH levels: Sodium helps balance the pH levels in the body, ensuring that the blood remains at a healthy pH level.

We Crave Sodium

Sodium is one nutrient we have a specific appetite for, so our cravings often lead us towards sodium-rich foods to fulfil our body’s needs.

Sodium is crucial to many physiological processes, and the body cannot store large amounts.  Away from the ocean, salt is often hard to find in our natural environment.  This is likely why we developed a strong conscious appetite for sodium. 

But once we get enough sodium, our cravings for sodium settle down, and sodium-rich foods quickly taste ‘too salty’ because we have had enough sodium.  The rate of sodium absorption is governed by the amount of salt already in your body.  When we need more sodium, it is absorbed quickly.  However, sodium will hang around for longer if we already have enough of it.  Therefore, your food will taste “saltier” as more remains unabsorbed on the tongue if you already have enough sodium. 

While you will need more sodium if you are active and sweat a lot, most people will benefit by shifting their focus to other electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium before worrying about sodium. 

A study by Tordoff (1992) suggested that our cravings for sodium may increase when we lack other minerals like calcium and potassium.  Hence, your salt cravings may reduce if you are getting enough of the other minerals. 

Salt and Hydration

While most people grab a big glass of water when they’re thirsty, sodium also plays a significant role in keeping you hydrated. 

Athletes like boxers, MMA fighters, and wrestlers trying to ‘make weight’ sometimes manipulate their sodium intake to reduce water retention.  However, this is not a sustainable long-term weight loss strategy.  A lack of sodium can stimulate your appetite to seek more sodium and prevent fat loss.  You also won’t feel great when you’re extremely water and sodium-depleted!   

Your adrenal glands upregulate aldosterone to tell your kidneys to hold onto sodium when you’re not consuming enough.  This is because the body needs salt to metabolise glucose and regulate insulin levels.  So, although minimising salt is often encouraged, avoiding salt can drive insulin resistance.

Symptoms of Sodium Deficiency

Because sodium is so critical to fluid balance, nerve signalling, and energy production, consuming too little of this mineral can cause symptoms like:

Factors That Increase Your Demand for Sodium

Sodium demand can be increased or decreased depending on your metabolic demands, the stress your body is under, and if you’re consuming certain products.  You may need more sodium if you:

Sodium vs Potassium

The sodium-potassium pump is central to your energy production and the movement of energy throughout the body.  Potassium depletion also induces sodium retention, associated with hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. 

In days gone by, salt was rare and highly valued.  We evolved mechanisms for protecting against the threat of low sodium levels, like intense cravings for this mineral, to prompt us to seek it out actively.  However, we have not developed similar mechanisms to protect us against low potassium levels because it was plentiful.  

Our Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors are thought to have consumed about 11,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day from fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, roots, and other plant sources.  At the same time, we were estimated to have consumed less than 700 mg of sodium.  Our potassium:sodium ratio could have been as high as 10:1! 

While we crave salt, sodium could be a stop-gap measure when our body wants more potassium.  You require less sodium when you get enough potassium. 

Our analysis shows that foods with more sodium correlate with a 22% reduction in food intake.  In contrast, foods and meals with more potassium align with a massive 30% reduction in food intake!  As shown in the chart below, increasing your potassium:sodium ratio aligns with a much lower overall energy intake. 

If you are active, you need at least as much potassium as sodium (i.e., a 1:1 sodium: potassium ratio).  However, if you are relatively sedentary, you should aim to consume twice as much potassium as sodium (i.e., a 1:2 sodium: potassium ratio). 

We find most people need to chase more potassium in their diet before they worry about supplementing large amounts of sodium.    

Potassium seems more important for most people because they are likely not getting enough from a conventional diet.  On the other hand, most people get a substantial amount of sodium if they consume a highly processed diet.  This is because large amounts of sodium (i.e. sodium chloride or table salt) are often added to processed foods, fast foods and certain beverages to increase their palatability, driving you to eat more.

How Much Sodium is Optimal? 

In the past, the official recommendation has been to consume less than 1 g per day of sodium due to concerns for hypertension from excessive sodium intake.  However, the Australian target intake (not minimum) was raised to 2 g per day for adults in 2017.  So, it seems that the risk of high sodium may be due to the low potassium: sodium ratio rather than high sodium itself. 

No upper limit is set for sodium, given that the requirements are individualised.  However, consuming too much sodium is, in some ways, self-limiting.  Consuming too much sodium on an empty stomach can quickly give you a ‘dose of the salts’ and leave you running to the toilet while downing water to clear excess salt.

The charts below from the PURE study indicate that greater than 4 g of sodium is ideal for improving your risk of cardiovascular events or death from any cause.     

A recent study (Sodium intake, life expectancy, and all-cause mortality) had similar findings, with higher sodium intakes aligning with better outcomes in terms of life expectancy and your risk of dying from any cause. 

Based on our satiety analysis, we have set a target sodium intake of 4.0 g/2000 calories.  However, ideally, you should focus on getting more potassium than sodium before jumping to these higher sodium intakes.  For more details, see:

Sodium in the Food System  

The chart below shows that dietary sodium has decreased in the food system since the 1960s.  We now need to consume 58% more food to get the same amount of sodium that we did in the past. 

Synergistic Nutrients

Sodium works synergistically with vitamins B6 and D, bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and potassium.   For this reason, we recommend consuming nutrient-dense foods that are naturally rich in sodium to ensure you get foods with a complete nutrient profile so sodium can do its job properly.

How Can I Calculate if I’m Getting Enough (or Too Much) Sodium?

Curious about your sodium intake?  Take our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge and discover if you’re hitting the sodium sweet spot in your diet.

After just one week of tracking your daily meals with Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will unveil a personalised roadmap, your guide to a healthier, more nutrient-rich lifestyle. 

You’ll receive a curated list of foods and tantalising NutriBooster recipes that not only fill your magnesium gaps but also ensure you’re not missing out on critical nutrients.

Ready to unlock your nutrient potential?  Join the challenge and embark on a journey towards a brighter, healthier you!

Nutrient Density Starter Pack

Ready to supercharge your nutrition?  Get our Nutrient Density Starter Pack – your all-access pass to a healthier, more vibrant you!

In our quest to make Nutritional Optimization a breeze, we’re thrilled to offer you this treasure trove of tools and resources when you join our vibrant Optimising Nutrition Community:

  • Food Lists: Discover our carefully crafted lists optimised for each essential nutrient, tailored to your goals, preferences, and unique conditions.
  • The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World: Peek into a week of mouthwatering, nutrient-dense meals that’ll leave you satisfied and energised.
  • Recipes: Download delectable samples from our NutriBooster recipe books, designed to elevate your nutrition while tantalising your taste buds.
  • 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge: Unearth your priority nutrients and pinpoint the foods and meals that pack a nutrient punch so you can kickstart your journey to better health.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to transform your nutrition effortlessly.  Join our community and unlock your path to a healthier, more vibrant you!

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