Sodium Claims on Food Packaging

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Learn what it means when a label calls something "reduced" or "low" sodium.

Q: What’s the difference between reduced sodium, low sodium, and no salt added foods? I am so confused by food labels!

 A: If you’ve been diagnosed with prehypertension or hypertension, lowering the amount of sodium you eat is one of the most important dietary changes you can make. Since up to 80 percent of the sodium in the US diet comes from processed foods (not salt added at the table or during food prep), you’ll want to become a savvy consumer and start reading labels. To get you started, here’s a guide to the labeling lingo the FDA uses to regulate sodium claims on food packaging.

  • “Sodium-free”indicates that a product contains less than 5 milligrams (mg) sodium per serving.
  • “Very low-sodium”indicates that a product contains 35 mg sodium or less per serving.
  • “Low-sodium”indicates that a product contains 140 mg sodium or less per serving.
  • “Reduced sodium”or “less sodium” indicates that a product contains at least 25% less sodium than the standard version. Note: Some “reduced sodium” products are still very high in sodium, so you’ll need to check the actual sodium content on the Nutrition Facts Panel to see if it fits into your low-sodium diet. For example, “reduced sodium” canned soups, though considerably lower in salt than regular canned soups, can still contain almost 500 milligrams sodium per 1-cup serving.
  • “Light in sodium”indicates that the product contains at least 50% less sodium than the standard version. Note: Some “light in sodium” products are still very high in sodium, so you’ll need to check the actual sodium content on the Nutrition Facts Panel to see if it fits into your low-sodium diet. For example, “light” or “lite” soy sauce, though considerably lower in salt than regular soy sauce, still contains 500-600 mg sodium per tablespoon.
  • “Unsalted”or “no salt added” indicates that no sodium (salt) is added to the product during processing, but the product still contains the sodium that naturally occurs in the product’s ingredients.
  • If a product is labeled as “healthy”, it must contain no more than 480 mg sodium for an individual food item (like a snack food), or no more than 600 mg for a meal or main dish (like a frozen dinner).

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