Salt Vs Sodium – what’s the difference?

When it comes to recommendations about the amount of salt in your diet, the language used can sometimes be confusing – sodium and salt are often used interchangeably, but are they the same thing?


Unlocking sodium and salt

Sodium is a mineral that the body needs to function properly.  Small amounts of sodium are found naturally in foods like vegetables, seafood and milk.  Sodium is also frequently added to packaged foods by manufacturers, usually for preservation or to add texture.

Salt is the term we use to refer to table salt, which is a chemical compound; table salt is made up of about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. We often add salt to foods, either while cooking or at the table. However, most of the salt in our diets comes from processed and packaged foods.


 How does salt impact on your health?

 Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, but it is the sodium part that can be damaging to your health.  While the body does need a small amount of sodium to function, too much can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing heart attack, kidney disease and stroke.

To help protect your heart, the Heart Foundation recommends you should have no more than 2000mg of sodium each day. This works out to be 5g of salt, or about a teaspoon.


It’s easy to limit the amount of salt you eat

If you buy packaged foods, look for sodium on the nutrition label. The best choices have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g, and the OK choices have less than 400mg of sodium per 100g.  You can learn more about reading a food label here. 

The best way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to base your diet on fresh unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. These foods only contain small amounts of naturally occurring sodium and will help protect your heart.


The bottom line

So are salt and sodium the same thing? The simple answer is no.  Sodium is a mineral that makes up salt, and it is the part that can be damaging to health if consumed in large quantities. Health professionals often talk about ‘salt’ because this is the main source of sodium in the food we eat.  To keep your consumption of salt (and therefore sodium) down, look out for sodium on food labels and try to avoid adding salt to your food.