The Lymphie Life is back in action, and what better way to make a comeback than with an informative post about sodium?!

Granted it’s not the most exciting topic, but it’s an important one—especially for us lymphies.

You cannot exist without sodium, but the amount we need is minor.”

-Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, research nutritionist at Northwestern University Medical School and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (source)

Sodium is an electrolyte that is vital to a number of functions in the body, such as fluid distribution, blood pressure, cellular work, and electrical activity. Our bodies regulate our sodium levels to ensure that the concentration remains within a narrow range—if it swings too high or too low, serious health problems (like high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and stroke) could result.

High levels of sodium can also cause the body to retain fluid, which, as lymphies, we already have enough of going on (!). Consuming excess amounts of sodium makes our swelling worse; I know that my leg feels “heavier” after I eat a particularly salty meal, and I’ve heard similar experiences from other lymphies. Despite there not being an “official” guideline for lymphies regarding sodium intake, it stands to reason that minimizing excess sodium will help manage lymphedema. Obviously, adhering to a lower-sodium diet isn’t going to make the edema disappear, but it will prevent any extra swelling due to unnecessary high sodium intake. Plus, reducing your salt intake is a great habit with a lot of overall health benefits!

As Americans, we are consuming a lot more sodium than is necessary. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day (less if you are over the age of 51, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease), yet the average daily sodium intake for Americans is more than 3,400 mg.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 75% of this comes from prepackaged and processed foods and foods made in restaurants. Only 5% of dietary sodium is added during home cooking while another 6% is added at the table. The remaining 12% of dietary sodium occurs naturally in foods.

More than 40% of sodium intake comes from the following ten types of foods:

  1. Breads and rolls
  2. Cold cuts and cured meats (i.e. deli meats or packaged lunch meats)
  3. Pizza
  4. Fresh and processed poultry
  5. Soups
  6. Sandwiches
  7. Cheese
  8. Pasta dishes
  9. Meat dishes
  10. Snacks (i.e. chips, pretzels, and popcorn)

Some of those categories are a little surprising, but just because a food item doesn’t taste salty or appears to be otherwise healthy doesn’t mean the sodium isn’t there.

It’s important to know which foods are the biggest contributors to your sodium intake so that you can keep it at a healthy level, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to check Nutrition Facts labels for the sodium content per serving. Anything that is listed as 5% or less of the percent Daily Value (% DV) is low and anything 20% or more is high; you generally don’t want to exceed a total of 65-100% DV for sodium from all foods in a day. Remember that things labeled as “reduced sodium” can still contain significant amounts, and also that sodium levels of the same foods can vary widely by brand—so always check the labels and compare!

In addition to checking the Nutrition Facts, take a peek at the ingredients list for these names: sodium nitrate, monosodium glutamate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium citrate. These ingredients are other sources of dietary sodium and should be avoided if possible.

Tracking down the salt in food with Professor Saul T. Too much sodium increases your risk for high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke. By taking the right steps to reduce your sodium intake, your blood pressure can begin decreasing within weeks. About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. Six in 10 adults should aim for 1,500 milligrams a day; others for 2,300 milligrams. Sodium adds up, and sodium levels in the same food can vary widely. Fat free chips can have 180 milligrams per ounce; white bread, up to 230 milligrams per slice; ready-to-eat cereal, 250 milligrams per cup; chicken breast with added solution, up to 330 milligrams per 4 ounces. Foods that you eat several times a day can add up to a lot of sodium, even if each serving is not high in sodium. Read Nutrition labels to find the lowest sodium options. A bowl of regular chicken noodle soup can have 840 milligrams of sodium, but lower sodium chicken noodle soup can have 360 milligrams of sodium. Most of the sodium we eat comes from foods prepared in restaurants and processed foods (not from the salt shaker). Tips you can use to reduce sodium: Choose fresh, frozen (no sauce), or no salt added canned vegetables; Know terms that commonly indicate higher sodium content, like pickled, cured, brined, and broth; Follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan at For more tips on reducing sodium in your diet, visit This infographic is brought to you by Million Hearts.

Here are some more tips to try:

The following two sections are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Tips for Lowering Sodium at the Supermarket

* Check to see if saline or salt solution has been added—if so, choose another brand.

Tips for Lowering Sodium While Eating Out

Restaurant foods are a major source of sodium in most Americans’ diets, so it pays to take a few minutes to find out what’s in the food you’re eating. Planning ahead also can help you find restaurants that have information on sodium levels in the foods they serve.

To reduce your sodium when you are eating out at a restaurant:

Have you noticed your sodium intake affecting your lymphedema? What are some ways you reduce sodium in your daily diet?


Useful Resources:

Saltshaker photo by SoraZG on Flickr.