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Sodium is an electrolyte mineral. It helps maintain a fluid and acid-base balance in the body.

What food source is the nutrient found in? 
Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. It is even present in drinking water. Convenience foods contain the most sodium in the form of salt and food additives.

Convenience foods are designed to be quick and easy to transport, store, prepare, and eat. To do all this, they need stabilisers, preservatives and ingredients to improve taste. And sodium does it all. High amounts of salt, or sodium chloride, are found in processed meats such as bacon, sausage and ham, in canned soups and vegetables, and in many frozen foods. Most restaurant food is also high in sodium, as are most take away foods.

Sodium-containing food additives include:
  • sodium chloride (table salt)
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • sodium nitrite.
  • sodium saccharin.
  • baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate.
  • sodium benzoate.
How does the nutrient affect the body? 
Sodium performs many essential functions in the body. It:
  • regulates fluid balance by controlling the flow of liquids in and out of each cell.
  • sparks nerve impulses.
  • helps the body to process and digest proteins and carbohydrates.
Sodium in the diet is measured in milligrams (mg). Australia was the first country to adopt a recommended dietary intake (RDI) for sodium of 40-100 mmol a day (920-2300mg). Eighty percent of Australians exceed this intake. This is a lot, as one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium (100 mmol).

Sodium helps cause high blood pressure in some people. Anyone with this problem needs to cut or reduce the amount of sodium in his or her diet. A high sodium intake causes calcium losses and may cause fluid retention in sensitive people, or worsen oedematous states such as travel oedema, premenstrual syndrome and Meniere's syndrome.

Author: Kimberly Tessmer, RD, LD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 13/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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