Low Sodium Foods

Foods rich in sodium

Distinguishing foods low in sodium from those that contain good quantities is not a complicated task; sodium is an almost ubiquitous trace element, therefore its dietary intake with food is sufficient to cover the recommended requirement for humans. However, in our country the common tendency is to exceed the intake of dietary sodium through the abuse of sodium chloride (NaCl), or table salt, inexorably altering the general state of health of the population.
To distinguish foods based on the amount of sodium they contain, it is sufficient to group them into two categories:

  • Fresh foods: foods low in sodium

Chemically, table salt is the result of the crystallization of sodium (Na+) associated with chlorine (Cl).

Sodium represents 40% by weight of sodium chloride and its food sources are divided into:

  • Food sodium (sodium from fresh foods + possible preservative sodium chloride)
  • Discretionary sodium, i.e. table salt added as a seasoning

Salt as a preservative

The main characteristic of sodium chloride is its shelf life potential, therefore its addition to foods increases the hygienic healthiness of foods on two fronts:

  • Inhibits the proliferation of contaminating organisms (although not all and not with the same effectiveness)
  • Drastically reduces the percentage of free water (Activity Water – AW) responsible for pathogen proliferation and spontaneous enzymatic degradation of the food

In ancient times, the discovery of salting for food preservation favored population growth thanks to the temporal distribution of meat and fish consumption, and the reduction of food poisoning. However, these behaviors have also influenced the collective habit of salty taste, limiting the natural perception of foods and promoting the consumption of preserved products; to date, foods naturally low in sodium are commonly added with table salt to increase their flavour.

Sodium needs

Adult subjects maintain their metabolic functions active through the intake of 69-460 mg/day of sodium, but taking into account individual variability (loss through sweating, fecal excretion and urinary excretion) it is recommended to introduce approximately 575 mg/day . The natural dietary sodium content in fresh foods would be sufficient on average to meet individual needs for this trace element.

Sodium deficiency is very rare, as well as exclusive to pathological conditions such as renal failure, chronic diarrhea and trauma; on the contrary, excessive sodium intake causes an increase in extracellular fluids resulting in:

Excess table salt also has a negative effect on gastric acid secretion and can promote mucosal complications. However, acute foodborne sodium toxicity is at least unlikely.

Foods high and low in sodium

Foods low in sodium, as anticipated, are all fresh foods without added sodium; on the other hand, foods that are rich in it constitute:

  • The entire food category dehydrated with salt (cod; anchovies, sardines and salted herring; raw ham, speck, loin, capocollo etc.)
  • The entire category of foods ground, kneaded or mixed with salt (all sausages: salami, mortadella, cracklings, soppressa, finocchiona, sausages, cotechino, etc.; cheeses)
  • The entire category of foods pickled or cooked in salted water and then canned (canned beans, natural tuna, tuna in oil, canned vegetables, etc.)
  • All foods added with sodium glutamate (bouillon cube and ready meals) and sodium bicarbonate.

NB. FISHED (not farmed) fishery products, especially bivalve molluscs (mussels, clams, etc.), contain fair quantities of sea water; in a general context of moderate sodium intake and in the absence of pathologies, they do not constitute a problem, on the contrary it is advisable to cook and serve them excluding the cooking fluid.


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