The difference between sodium and salt.

The difference between sodium and salt can be difficult to discern, even for those knowledgeable about food.  Many mistakenly believe the terms can be used interchangeably, but sodium and salt are truly two distinct things.

Sodium occurs naturally in food. It’s either chemically present or it’s not, and most foods contain at least a scant trace of it.  Unlike salt, you can’t increase or decrease the amount of sodium in a food. Sodium simply IS. Some foods (for instance, shellfish) may contain large quantities of sodium, whereas others (like fruits) contain very, very little. Foods with a naturally salty taste do NOT contain salt; they contain high levels of sodium. You can reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, but you can never eliminate it altogether. Humans require roughly 500 mg of sodium daily to maintain normal body processes. Sodium helps regulate things like neurological and muscular function, as well as meet cellular needs. This daily requirement is easily gleaned from a healthy, balanced diet without the need of salt.

Salt is NOT SODIUM. Salt is a naturally-occurring compound which is harvested and used to enhance the taste of food. It contains sodium, yes, but it also contains chloride. Salt can be added to food, but once added, it cannot be subtracted. You’ve seen this in practice if you’ve ever over-salted something, rendering it unpalatable. Many people believe you must have salt to live, but you can eliminate salt from your diet. You do not need salt to survive. Before humans began harvesting salt, they weren’t dropping dead from the lack of it. Salt is a luxury, not a necessity.

A good way to illustrate the distinction between the two is to think of a traditionally salted food, like french fries. French fries are not naturally salty; salt is added to them after cooking. Salt-free french fries are much lower in sodium than salted fries, but they still contain sodium, because potatoes contain sodium. Salt-free french fries = possible. Sodium-free french fries = impossible. It’s a very important distinction, one many misunderstand.

People on a low-sodium diet must avoid not only salt, but also the naturally occurring sodium in many foods. It’s crucial to remember that even when you’ve stopped adding salt to your food, sodium is still present in most things.

In sum:

Sodium = Sodium

Salt = (40%) Sodium + (60%) Chloride

Sodium ≠ Salt

For a list of easy ways to reduce sodium in your diet, click HERE.

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12 Responses to The difference between sodium and salt.

  1. Desi says:

    Thank you so much Christy for this post! I learned a lot. As careful as I have to be, I still honestly did not completely understand the difference between the two. I try to keep my sodium level no higher than 300 per my Dr, but you said we need at least 500. Thank so much!!

    • Christy says:

      Wonderful to hear, Desi. I wrote this post in response to a friend’s questions about salt v. sodium. I know how confusing it can be, even to very knowledgeable people. So glad you found it helpful!

  2. Love your new blog looks!

    But I can’t believe you wasted all of that salt.

    Well, hopefully the kids dunked their fingers in there and licked it all up. Actually, no, you probably don’t want that.

    Anyway, good stuff! I guess this explains why I sometimes read labels and think “yowza!” when I look at the sodium yet notice that there’s no added salt.

    • Christy says:

      Thanks babe! I’m loving it too. As for the salt, NO THEY DID NOT EAT IT! Heaven forbid. Georgia dyed it with food coloring and made a sort of wet mush. She had fun. That’s enough for me.

  3. shambo says:

    This is a wonderfully informative post. You’ve explained the differences very clearly. There’s absolutely no way to follow a sodium-free diet. You couldn’t even drink water! But reducing salt intake is definitely doable. And remembering that all foods, even in their natural state, contain some sodium may be vitally important to those following strict low sodium diets.

  4. Greg says:

    Hi Christy,

    It’s been four weeks now on my less-than 2000mg/sodium diet and I haven’t noticed much of a change.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve only broken 1000mg three or four times.


    My wife wants us to stay on it (or at least a lot less than what we used to eat before the Meniere’s diagnosis) but it is a bummer that I haven’t experienced any relief.

    My next appt with the audiologist is on the 14th and we’ll see what he says.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Christy says:

      Greg, please don’t get discouraged. Your wife is so right. Stay on the diet, even if you’re not feeling a noticeable change yet, you hopefully will soon. And you are not doing yourself anything but good, truly. Hang in there, friend.

  5. Judi says:

    Hi Greg,

    I’m not Christy but have Meniere’s too. Any time I’ve had an attack I needed to go absolutely as low sodium as you can go, maybe 500 mg/day or less. Also, things like caffeine, sulfates (aspirin, pepto-bismol) and changes in altitude needed to be eliminated for me. Your doctor may add a diuretic to help get rid of the fluid faster but you need to drink a lot of water to flush everything through your system. Seems like an oxymoron, but it works. I’ve been attack free for about 15 years, so I have hope you will get better!

    Good luck,

    • Christy says:

      Judi, this is a wonderful explanation!

      I think of Meniere’s in this way. Your body wants to be in equilibrium. When you maintain a low-sodium diet, you give your body the best shot at doing so. When things get out of whack – from weather, diet, you name it – your body wants desperately to right itself again. By cutting out the salt and flushing your system, you are helping yourself return to that state.

  6. Ah, yes…
    NaCl… I faintly remember that from Chemistry. That was pre-stoichiometry… when I was still fooling myself into believing I had the faintest clue what was going on. I think I wound up with a ‘B’-oron in that class. Not sure how. Should have been a ‘C’-arbon. Or worse.

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