Sodium

How much do you need daily?

Salt is also called sodium chloride. Sometimes, food labels only give the figure for sodium. The NHS provides a simple way to work out how much salt you are eating from the sodium figure:

Salt = sodium x 2.5

Adults should eat no more than 2.4 grams of sodium per day, which is equal to 6.0 grams of salt.

Are we getting enough?

On average, people in the UK eat eight grams of salt (about 3.2 grams of sodium) a day, which is much more than the body needs.

Why do we need it?

We need small amounts of sodium so our bodies can conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles and maintain the right balance of water and minerals in body fluids. It’s essential to good health but we tend to have too much of it. That’s because we get a plentiful supply of sodium in salt – sodium chloride.

Too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Salt not only adds flavour to food but is also used as a preservative, binder and stabiliser so it’s widely used even in products you might not expect to find salt in. In fact, the biggest culprit for adding salt to the diet of children and teenagers in the UK is pizza. Salt is also used in chicken to absorb water (to increase the weight and profitability).

If you consistently eat excessive amounts of salt, this can result in sodium toxicity with symptoms including swelling of the hands and feet and excess calcium lost in the urine – this in turn can increase risk of osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Salt directly damages blood vessels within 30 minutes of eating it. But it also raises blood pressure by making you hold on to water in your bloodstream.   

Lack of sodium usually occurs in situations when you have extreme sodium losses through prolonged sweating (physical exertion, working in hot conditions) or due to an illness causing vomiting and diarrhoea or a chronic condition (kidney disease).

Do I need a supplement?

No, a healthy vegan diet will cover your needs.

The best plant sources

Salt is found in many foods, including cereal products (breakfast cereals and wholegrain products). Processed foods can contain relatively high levels.

Signs of deficiency

headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, muscle spasms or cramps and seizures.