Watching Sodium When You Have Diabetes

Measuring sodium

Most people eat about 6 to 18 grams of table salt (sodium chloride) each day. That's about 1 to 3 teaspoons. People with diabetes are told to limit sodium. This helps prevent or control high blood pressure.

The USDA says to limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. It also says you should have no more than 1,500 mg per day if you:

  • Are African American

  • Have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease

  • Are age 51 and older

The American Heart Association (AHA) urges all people to limit sodium to no more than 1,500 mg a day. That's no matter your age, health, or race. In some cases, your healthcare provider may tell you not to do so. But cutting down on salt may help you stay off medicines for blood pressure.

Common ways to measure sodium are:

  • 28 grams = 1 ounce

  • 1 gram = 1,000 milligrams

  • 5.5 grams of sodium = 1 teaspoon

What foods are high in sodium?

Most foods have some sodium in them. But it's often added to processed, prepared, and prepackaged foods. Some foods high in sodium are:

  • Meats, such as bacon, sausage, ham, cold cuts (bologna), corned beef, and hot dogs

  • Canned tuna, salmon, sardines, and shellfish

  • Frozen, breaded, or smoked fish

  • Canned foods, such as vegetables, soups, and tomato juice

  • Prepared or premixed foods, such as boxed macaroni and cheese, potato mixes, and frozen dinners

  • Snacks, such as salted crackers, pretzels, and potato chips

  • Baked goods like cookies and doughnuts

  • Cheeses

  • Other foods, such as olives, pickles, salad dressings, soy sauces, and steak sauce

Many stores have low-sodium foods. When buying food, check the labels for the symbol Na or NaCl, or the words sodium or sodium chloride. These mean sodium is in the food. Some fresh foods are "salt-free." But packaged versions may have a lot of salt. A dietitian can help point you to better food choices.

You can swap other spices and herbs for salt to add flavor. Or you can buy salt substitutes. Talk with your healthcare provider or a dietitian for help with cutting back on sodium. Some salt substitutes have potassium chloride. This may not be safe for people with kidney disease.