Sodium intake: How low should you go?

Occasionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets something (half) right… 

Case in point: They recently issued voluntary short-term sodium reduction targets to chain restaurants and manufacturers of processed, packaged, and prepared food.  

Why? To help reduce heart disease and obesity rates.  

Of course, salt’s role in either of those conditions is questionable—but this is still a good step forward.  

So, let’s talk about it… 

Cracking down on fast foods 

The FDA states that more than 70 percent of our total salt intake comes from sodium that goes into food during manufacturing and commercial preparation.  

So, their new targets are looking to cut the average sodium intake from around 3,400 mg/day down to 3,000 mg/day—a reduction of around 12 percent—over the next two to three years. And that seems perfectly reasonable to me.  

But here’s what I don’t understand: This reduction is still above the official recommended limit of 2,300 mg daily for anyone over the age of 13, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

(Of course, that target is far too low. In fact, most countries have set a goal of 3,000 to 3,200 mg of salt per day, which is more in line with the new FDA recommendation.) 

So, where’s the disconnect? 

I’m not saying that excessive sodium intake is good for you. Among other problems, it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, heart attack, death, and obesity. 

But there’s a difference between the salt in your shaker—and the salt found in processed foods. Why isn’t that the message here?! After all, this latest effort isn’t really for people who already eat healthy. It’s for the folks who live off of processed, packaged fast foods. 

Your salt shaker isn’t the enemy 

Let me be clear: Salt isn’t unhealthy by itself. If you’re someone who follows a healthy diet, consuming too little can seriously damage your kidneys and cause just as many problems as consuming too much. 

That’s why it’s important to take a holistic look at one’s diet before attempting to establish an appropriate target for salt intake. (I always ask my patients about their dietary choices and then, we discuss sodium.)  

If a food comes with a nutrition label, that’s a good indication it’s not real food. So yes, you should be aware of your sodium intake—especially if those foods make up the majority of your diet. 

But if you’re following a healthy, balanced diet, like my A-List Diet—full of fresh, whole, home-cooked meals—you’re likely in the clear. Doing so will always be the simplest way to ensure your sodium intake stays exactly where it needs to be… no matter how liberally you season your food!  

At the end of the day, good nutrition isn’t rocket science. It’s really just plain, common sense. For once, it would be nice to see the powers-that-be actually use some—and to stop putting money in Big Food’s pocket!  

P.S. Be sure to follow my Cooking With Dr. Fred show for simple recipes on YouTube and Instagram. I love making delicious, nutritious, home-cooked meals. 


“FDA sets new goal for lower salt in everyday American food.” Reuters, 10/13/2021. (