Eating well


Salt (Sodium) Intake

In cooking and food processing, salt has become a very common flavor enhancer. Many people are consuming too much salt. One reason is they are eating too much processed foods and fast foods both which usually contain a lot of salt.

A small amount of salt (sodium) is need by our bodies to:Salt shaker

  • Balance the  body’s water content
  • Help transmit nerve impulses
  • Help regulate muscle contraction and relaxation

The kidney regulates the human body’s salt/sodium intake. When the salt intake is low, the kidney will conserve all the salt; when salt intake is too high, the kidneys will get rid of the excess amount in urine.

If the kidney cannot get rid of the excess sodium it will begin to accumulate in the blood. Due to the water retaining properties of sodium, this causes an increased volume of fluids (blood). Then the heart has to work harder to pump the excess blood, and this increases the pressure in the arteries. That is why when we ingest more salt than the body can absorb, a series of side effects will arise, which includes edema (excess watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body) and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the causes of heart failure or heart attacks.

Since there are a lot of processed and convenience food, we have to make careful choices in what and how much we eat, or even adjust our eating habits in order to decrease our sodium intake.

How much salt do we need?
Normally we need 1500-2500 mg daily. That is approximately 1 teaspoon of table salt.

In order to reduce daily salt intake and hit our target amount, we have to understand how much sodium is in the food we eat (see Tables below for the  main sources of sodium).

Sources of Sodium: Food with natural sodium

Foods that contain less than 10 mg sodium
¼ cup    dry beans **
½ cup    fruit juice
1  cup    oatmeal, wheat
1  cup    macaroni, spaghetti, rice group
1  cup    fresh vegetable (most)
1  cup    frozen vegetables
½ cup    unsalted nuts, peanuts **
1  cup    tofu

Foods that contain 10 - 40 mg sodium
60-90 gm    potato grp (potato, sweet potato, taro) **
1  cup    carrots
1  cup    celery
½ cup    cooked spinach
½ cup    beet
¾ cup    kale
½ cup    coconut milk

Foods that contain 40 – 65 mg sodium
90 gm beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fresh fish
1 egg
60 gm shrimp meat

Foods that contain 65 – 140 mg sodium
1  cup    fresh cow’s milk
½ cup    condensed milk
1  cup    yoghurt
½ cup     ice cream
90 gm steamed clam meat

Foods that contain 140 -175 mg sodium
1 slice wheat bread
½ an English muffin
1  cup udon noodles
2 tbsp peanut butter **

Foods that contain 175 -350 mg sodium
1 cup skim milk
30 gm cheese
100 gm cottage cheese
¾ cup tomato juice **

**Note: For people with kidney problems, this food has high Potassium

Sources of Sodium: Food with Sodium Added

Seasonings Amount Sodium (mg)
Chili sauce 1 tsp 200-300
Tomato sauce 1 tbsp 300-500
Sweet vetsin(甜味精) 1 tsp 400-500
Black Bean sauce(豆豉醬) 1 tsp 500-600
Tom yum sauce(冬蔭醬) 1 tsp 500-600
Bean paste(豆瓣醬) 1 tbsp 500-600
Hoisin sauce(海鮮醬) 1 tbsp 500-600
Light, dark soy sauce
1 tsp 500-800
Salty vetsin(鹹味精) 1 tsp 800-1000
Fermented bean curd
(腐乳, 南乳)
1 tsp 1000-1500
Japanese soup powder
1 tbsp 2000-3000
Table salt (食鹽) 1 tsp 2300

Chemical Seasoning, 1 tsp - contains 1000mg sodium
Baking Soda
Baking powder(發粉)
Carbonated drinks
Chemical preservatives

Processed Foods with High Sodium Content (pickles, canned food, etc)

Processed vegetables (100 gm) Sodium (mg)
Salted cabbage (鹽漬白菜) 100 - 200
Pickled radish (醃黃蘿蔔, 菜甫) 300
Pickled seaweed (佃煮海苔) 500
Preserved plum, lemon
(話梅, 檸檬乾, 加應子, 陳皮梅)
500 – 600
Pickled plum, mustard, etc
(醃醎梅, 咸酸菜, 榨菜, 蔥菜)

Processed meat (100 gm)

Sodium (mg)
Canned meat, jerky
(罐頭肉, 午餐肉, 牛肉/豬肉乾)
1000 - 1500
Processed cheese 1100
Ham 1100 – 1500
Roasted duck, salted-baked chicken
(燒鴨, 鹽焗雞)
1500 – 1800
Roasted or BBQ pork (燒肉, 叉燒) 1800 – 2000
Chinese sausage(香腸, 臘腸) 2000 - 2500

Canned fish/shellfish (100 gm)

Sodium (mg)
Canned salmon (水浸罐頭三文魚) 360 – 400
Canned tuna (水浸罐頭吞拿魚) 400 - 450
Whitebait - immature fry (魩魚仔) 500 – 600
Japanese amberjack (日本魚瘴) 1500 – 2000
Salted fish (咸魚) 1000 - 15000

Food Processed with Fat (100 gm)

Sodium (mg)
Fritters, french fries, shrimp crackers
400 – 500
Salted butter 1000
Margarine 1000 - 1500

Reducing sodium and salt intake

  • Choose fresh food and vegetables
  • Avoid processed foods such as pickled vegetables and canned meat
  • As much as possible, choose processed foods with low sodium such as canned fruits and frozen vegetables
  • Avoid flavor enhancers with high sodium such as salad dressings, soy sauce, mushroom sauce, tomato sauce, mustard, pickled radish, etc.
  • Choose natural herbs and seasonings (fresh is best) such as: basil, dill, parsley, curry powder, chili powder, onion, garlic, ginger, green onion and lemon
  • Use less salt when cooking
  • Do not add extra salt during meals
  • Use salt substitutes, but pay attention to the amount as the blandness of the food might lead to over use, which defeats the purpose*

*Please note: Consult a dietician when using salt substitutes as long term consumption of these substitutes can harm the body. Many salt substitutes use potassium and too much potassium can harm the kidneys, leading to high blood pressure and heart problems.

Initially, do not totally cut salt out of your diet. Gradually reduce the salt used to allow yourself  to get used to change of taste. See the table below for ideas on how to cook using no or low salt options. You can also ask a nutritionist for low salt recipes.

Tips for eating out:

  1. Take-outs and restaurant foods use a lot of spices and salt, therefore avoid adding soy sauce or spices and avoid gravy and thick sauce.
  2. When eating out, choose soup noodle, stewed, steamed or braised dishes. Avoid fried rice, fried noodles, and other fried food.
  3. Avoid fast foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, pizzas, etc. Fast foods have high sodium content.
  4. During banquets, one tends to overeat. Pay attention to the amount of food you eat especially those high in sodium. Using water to rinse away too much soy sauce or oil is a solution.

No salt or low salt cooking

Method Choices    Example
(1) choose fresh food Vegetable, mushroom, fish, tofu Steam, braise, pan fry, grill or bake to retains the food’s flavor
(2) add to salt-free broth Vegetables, mushroom, fresh chicken, lean pork to make broth Add radish (蘿蔔) , seaweed ( 海帶), Chinese mushroom (香菇),  dried fish (柴魚), dried shellfish (貝類), etc to enhance flavour
(3) sodium free spice or seasoning (a)sour Lemon juice, fresh tomatoes, tomato puree (not ketchup), white vinegar, salt-free French vinegar, low fat salad dressing
(b)Spices/ flavouring (香料味) Five spice powder (五香粉), chili powder, curry powder, basil, dill, parsley, onion, garlic, lemon grass(香芧), chives(韮菜), enhances flavour
(4) food with oil Vegetable oil low in saturated fats Canola (芥花籽油), rapeseed (菜籽油), olive( 橄欖油), corn (粟米油), sesame ( 芝麻油)  (also contain fat, be careful with servings)
(5) low salt gravy/sauce Vegetable or fish broth Add water to cornstarch, mix with low salt flavor enhancer to make a healthier gravy/sauce


Content by Jenny Ho, Registered Dietitian