Sources of Sodium among the U.S. Population, 2005-06


The purpose of this research was to identify the contributions of various foods to intake of sodium in the U.S. population age 2 years and older.

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We used the 2005-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine the contribution of specific foods to intake of sodium. The dietary intake data collected in the survey were catalogued according to discrete food codes. For this analysis, food codes representing similar foods -- such as the various types of pasta dishes -- were combined to provide an indication of the contribution of distinct food items to intake of the dietary component being studied. That is, the food codes were sorted into 96 mutually exclusive food categories, termed specific foods.

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There are separate tables for the percentage contribution and mean contribution (mg) of various foods, stratified by age group, gender, race/ethnicity, and family income.

Tables 1a-4a. Mean Intakes of Sodium and Percentage Contribution of Various Foods

Tables 1b-4b. Mean Intakes of Sodium and Mean Contribution (mg) of Various Foods

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  • Rankings depend in part on how ubiquitously the specific food is consumed. Foods that are the richest sources of sodium are not necessarily the major contributors. Because some foods are commonly consumed in the population they result in a significant contribution to the total intake.
  • The mean contribution (in milligrams) represents the average per capita. For example, all persons age 2 and older consume an average of 217 mg of sodium from pizza per day. If the analysis was restricted to only those people who reported eating pizza on a given day, average sodium intake from pizza would be higher.

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The major sources of sodium in the U.S. population are yeast breads; chicken and chicken mixed dishes; pizza; pasta and pasta dishes; cold cuts; condiments; Mexican mixed dishes; sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs; regular cheese; grain-based desserts; soups; and beef and beef mixed dishes. These 12 food groups each supply over 100 mg sodium per person per day to the diet. Collectively, this relatively small group of foods contributes about 56% of the dietary sodium, or nearly 2000 mg per person per day.

The major sources of sodium vary by age, gender, and race/ethnicity, as follows:

  • The top five contributors of sodium for all persons are yeast breads(250 mg per day), chicken and chicken mixed dishes (233 mg per day), pizza (217 mg per day), pasta and pasta dishes (174 mg per day), and cold cuts (155 mg per day).
  • Rankings varied somewhat by age. For example, the top source among 2-18 year olds is pizza (295 mg per day) and among persons 19 and older it is yeast breads (258 mg per day). Other foods in the top five for several narrower age groups include: sausages, franks, bacon, and ribs for 2-3 year olds, 4-8 year olds, 9-13 year olds, and 51-70 year olds; Mexican mixed dishes for 19-30 year olds; grain-based desserts for persons 71 and older; and soups for 51-70 year olds and persons 71 and older.
  • Rankings varied somewhat among males. For example, a major contributor among 14-18 year olds is burgers (219 mg per day). Condiments is a top source among both 14-18 year olds (224 mg per day) and 51-70 year olds (183 mg per day).
  • Rankings varied somewhat among females. For example, salad dressing is a major contributor among 51-70 year olds (105 mg per day) and ready-to-eat cereals is a top source among 2-3 year olds (97 mg per day).
  • Rankings varied somewhat by race/ethnicity. The top source is yeast breads for non-Hispanic Whites (271 mg per day), chicken and chicken mixed dished for non-Hispanic Blacks (311 mg per day), and Mexican mixed dishes (348 mg per day) for Mexican-Americans.

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Suggested Citation

Suggested citation for information contained on this page:

Sources of Sodium among the U.S. Population, 2005-06. Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program website. National Cancer Institute. Updated April 20, 2018. Accessed August 18, 2018.

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