Everyone needs some sodium, or salt, in their diet to stay healthy. But too much sodium can cause bloating, weight gain and heart problems, even in teens your age. Learn what happens to your body if you eat more sodium than your body needs. Learn tips to help you be smart when it comes to foods with sodium.

Why Should I Worry About Sodium Right Now?

Eating more sodium, or salt, than your body needs can cause problems now and lead to problems later in your life.

Right now, too much sodium can cause weight gain and bloating (when your body becomes swollen with extra fluid). The extra fluid makes your heart work harder than it needs to. Later in life, too much sodium in your diet can cause heart problems and high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other problems with your heart, veins and kidneys.

Where Does Sodium Come From?

Sodium comes from 2 places: the salt shaker and processed or prepared foods.

How Much Sodium Do I Need Every Day?

Teens need about 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium every day to stay healthy. Just 1 teaspoon (small spoonful) of salt has 2,000 mg of sodium.

Most people eat about 3,400 mg of sodium every day. That’s more than 2 times the amount of sodium than you need every day!

How Can I Be Smart With Eating Sodium?

  • Taste your food first. Does it need salt? See what your food tastes like before adding salt.
  • Choose low-sodium or sodium-free foods. Check the package for words like “no salt added,” “light sodium,” “low-sodium” or “sodium-free.” Read the nutrition label too. Your body only needs 1,500 mg of sodium every day.
  • Use sodium-free and salt-free seasonings, spices and herbs to add flavor. For example, use garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
  • Look for words that mean sodium. There is extra sodium hiding in many foods. Foods that are high in salt have words like au jus, barbecue, brined, broth, miso, smoked, pickled or teriyaki. Foods that are low in salt have words like baked, grilled, poached, roasted or steamed.
  • Choose fresh meats, vegetables and fruits instead of dried or frozen. If you do choose frozen veggies, go for ones that say “fresh frozen” on the package.
  • Learn to “un-like” extra sodium. You can teach your tongue to not like as much sodium. If you eat foods without extra sodium, over time you will find that foods with extra sodium don’t taste good.
  • Check the food in your fridge. If food in your fridge keeps well for a week or more, it usually has extra sodium.

How Do I Know How Much Sodium is in Food?

You can find out how much sodium is in food by reading the nutrition label. Try to choose foods that are light in sodium, low-sodium or sodium-free.

How Much Sodium is in My Favorite Fast Foods?

Fast food has lots of extra sodium. The chart below shows you how much sodium is in some of your favorite fast foods.

Did You Know...?

Salt is made up of 2 chemicals – sodium and chloride. Many nutrition labels don’t list how much salt is in food. Instead, most food labels list how much sodium is in foods.

Right now, you should think about how much sodium is in your food. Too much sodium can cause you to feel bloated (gassy) or gain weight. This can affect the way you look and feel. It can also keep you from doing the things you love. Later in life, too much sodium can cause heart problems and high blood pressure.

A Note For Your Family...

Being sodium smart is hard when there is extra sodium in many foods. Choose foods that are low-sodium, no salt added or sodium-free. Taste your food first before adding salt. You can also use herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings to add flavor.

When eating at a restaurant, ask your server about how much salt is in your food. Many restaurants have this information available if you ask.

Rev. 8/2017. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.