- Brian Bender, PhD
How to Track Sodium Intake (10 Step Guide)
Knowing how to track sodium intake may be one of the most important practices you can adopt for eating a well-balanced diet and hitting your health goals.
See our post about salt and high blood pressure.
But how do you track sodium intake? Especially for home-cooked meals? And how do you track sodium intake over time?
This step-by-step guide walks you through this process to show you how to track sodium intake from your diet. It essentially comes down to two primary questions: What is the quantity of sodium in the food you ate? And, how much of it did you eat?
Step 1: Identify the individual food items in your meal.
If the food is pre-packaged with a nutrition label, skip this step. But, if you prepared your meal from a recipe (like the ingredients below from a delicious recipe for Sardinian gnocchi with meat sauce), take note of each food item in the meal. Either on paper, or using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, list each item in the first column under the heading title like, Ingredients.
Step 2: Calculate the quantity of each serving of foods with nutrition labels.
If the food is pre-packaged, look at the nutrition label. You will see “serving size,” and “servings per container.” Take the quantity of each ingredient in your recipe and divide that by the serving size. Save that answer. You will multiply the amount of sodium by this answer to determine how much protein is in your meal from that particular ingredient. For each item you have a nutrition label for, follow this procedure.
Step 3: Navigate to the USDA Food Search tool for fresh food item.
For fresh foods without a nutrition label, navigate to the USDA Food Search tool at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.
Step 4: Search for each food item.
Edit Select Source for Standard Reference, and enter the name of a food item into Enter one or more terms.
Find the food item description that best fits your food. For fresh fruits and vegetables, often the term includes “, raw.” Click on that food item.
Step 5: Search for and modify the quantity of the item to match your recipe.
Scroll horizontally in the table to find the quantity that best matches your recipe. To modify the column, enter a value into the serving size box and hit Enter.
Step 6: Identify the Quantity of Sodium.
Match the value in the column for your desired quantity with the row for sodium.
Step 7: Record this value for each food item in the recipe.
Record this value for each food item in the recipe, and repeat this cycle for each food item.
Step 8: Sum the sodium value for each food item to obtain a total of all sodium in the recipe.
Sum each sodium column by adding together the values for each food item. In this example, the sum of all sodium for this recipe is equal to 6 + 0 + 0 + 1 + 0 + 117 + 64 + 1 + 0 + 1080 + 1300 + 2325 = 4894 mg of sodium.
Two things to note:
You’ll notice that most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium.
Salt will typically be one of the largest sources of dietary sodium. Salt is chemically composed of sodium and chloride (NaCl). Roughly 39% of your salt is sodium.
Step 9: Estimate your consumption.
Next, estimate how much you consumed as a decimal. If you ate the entire dish, it is an easy 1. If you ate half, you would have consumed 0.5 of the dish. One quarter? 0.25. And so on.
Multiply this decimal by total mg of sodium. These values provide the total amount of sodium (in mg) you consumed from this meal.
Step 10: Compare total sodium intake to guidelines.
The American Heart Association recommends that you should not eat more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily.
But they go even further, suggesting an ideal upper limit is closer to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
To calculate how much your meal contributed to these guidelines, divide your intake by 2,300 or 1,500. The percentage reveals how much of your daily recommended value (or ideal value) you’ve consumed.
And That’s It!
You now know how to track sodium intake and understand how to monitor and gauge your eating habits.
If you want to track your sodium intake over time, repeat this process for each snack and meal you consume throughout the day.
This technique can help you ensure you are eating a balanced diet and help you meet your dietary goals.
If you are interested in how to track your sodium intake and other aspects of your diet using a simpler method, signup to learn more about Intake!