Ever wondered how to know if a food has a little or a lot of sodium? Are you confused by what the nutrition facts label actually means and how to use it?
Current dietary recommendations are not to exceed 2300 mg of sodium per day. This is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt per day. What does this really mean in a practical sense? If the majority (and I’m talking up to 75%) of the sodium we get is from pre-made foods, how can we efficiently measure our sodium intake to keep it below 2300 mg per day? The truth is keeping an accurate tally of our sodium intake is time consuming and impractical. Who has time or patience to do that every day?
While it may not be practical to keep track of every little milligram of sodium ingested, using the nutrition facts label can help us make better choices when it comes sodium intake. My preference is to use the percent daily value (% DV) on the nutrition facts label to decipher if something has a little or a lot of sodium.
So, what is this % DV? Essentially, it shows how much of a nutrient is present per serving, in relation to how much you should have each day. For example, if the % DV is 25% for sodium, this means that the serving (as noted by the serving size on the label) has 25% (or ¼) of your sodium allotment for one day. That’s actually quite a bit, isn’t it?
It’s always important to take note of the serving size on the nutrition label. The serving size is located right under the words 'Nutrition Facts/Valeur Nutritive' and will both have empirical and metric measures (in Canada, at least). Serving sizes are not standardized at this time and must be taken into consideration when analyzing whether nutrient in a food are a little or a lot.
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the % DV, here’s the ‘quick and dirty’ trick to deciphering if something has a little or a lot of sodium:
- If the % DV is 5% or less = a little bit of sodium
- If the % DV is 15% or more = a lot of sodium
That’s it. I don’t want you to keep a little tally of how much sodium you are ingesting each day. No need to make sure that all the % DVs don’t exceed 100%. Just use this as a tool in helping you make better nutrition decisions. If you are buying packaged foods, choose those with the lowest % of sodium, and preferably with those with less than 5% DV. If something has more than 15% sodium per serving size, you know that it is high in sodium and that it's better off finding a lower salt alternative.
Let’s look at some examples:
To recap, always check the nutrition facts label for the sodium content of food. Look at both the serving size and the % daily value for sodium. If the % DV is 5 or less, it's low in sodium. These are your best options. If it's higher than 15% DV, it's high in sodium and best to look for a lower salt alternative.