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Sodium (Salt) Intake and Cancer

Salt is present in nearly every food we eat. Before the salt shaker even makes an appearance, most foods and drinks contain some sodium. The average person consumes about 3500 mg of sodium per day. This is more than twice as much as what is recommended.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. Talk with your healthcare team to determine your daily sodium goal. If you are on a meal plan that controls sodium, pick foods mostly that have 300 mg or less of sodium per serving. To eat less sodium, you will have to move beyond your use of the salt shaker. More than 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods. Eating out and to-go foods are another source of sodium. Decide what you are going to eat when you eat away from home and research menus and nutrient content online at restaurant websites.

In addition to increasing risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, excessive salt intake also increases risk for cancer. According to an expert panel at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), excessive salt and salted preserved foods damage the lining of the stomach which may contribute to the development of stomach cancer. During treatment for cancer, salt may pose a problem if fluid retention becomes an issue. It is best to limit sodium, eat mainly unprocessed foods, and drink plenty of water during treatment.

Common Foods and their Sodium Content:

Food Portion Sodium Content (mg)
Asparagus (fresh or frozen) 4 spears 8
Asparagus (canned) 4 spears 207
Pickle 1 spear 833
Bacon 3 slices 439
Salt 1 teaspoon 2325
Chicken Noodle Soup 1 cup 850
Tomato juice 1 cup 654
Self-rising flour 1 cup 1588
Soy sauce 1 tablespoon 902
Potato chips 1 ounce 149
Milk 1 cup 108
Hot Dog 1 504
Cheeseburger (fast food) 1 burger 1051
Saltine crackers 4 129
Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 176
Raisin Bran Cereal 1 cup 362

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database

The following are some tips and information to help you reduce and monitor sodium intake:

  • Read food labels and focus on the sodium content per serving. Limit foods that contain more than 200mg of sodium per serving.
  • Limit processed foods such as frozen, canned, and snack food items. When choosing canned foods such as beans or tomatoes, look for those labeled “No Salt Added”. If you are unable to find “no salt added” vegetables, rinse canned vegetables thoroughly in a colander. This will remove some (about one-third) of the sodium.
  • Limit or avoid smoked or cured foods such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meat. An expert panel at the American Institute for Cancer Research also found that the preservatives used in cured, smoked, and salted foods may have a direct link to colon cancer as well as stomach cancer.
  • Avoid flavored rice and noodle packets. Prepare plain rice or noodles and season your own.
  • Look for salad dressings with the lowest sodium content. An even better and more economical option is to make your own.
  • Prepare the majority of food at home. Fast food, prepared foods, and restaurant foods tend to have a more salt than when the same foods are prepared at home.
  • Eat fresh or frozen vegetables seasoned with herbs or citrus juices instead of salt.
  • Avoid frozen vegetables that are pre-seasoned or have a sauce.
  • Look for sodium-free seasonings to try on meats and vegetables.

Try these seasonings instead of salt:

Food Seasoning
Beef Bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme
Lamb Curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint
Pork Garlic, onion, sage, pepper oregano
Veal Bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, marjoram, oregano
Chicken Ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
Fish Curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika, pepper
Carrots Cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
Corn Cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley
Green Beans Dill, curry powder, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme
Greens Onion, pepper
Potatoes Dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage
Summer Squash Cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
Winter Squash Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, onion
Tomatoes Basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper
Cucumbers chives, dill, garlic, vinegar
Peas green pepper, mint, fresh mushrooms, onion, parsley
Rice chives, green pepper, onion, paprika, parsley

Source: Reid, Ivy. (2003, April). Cooking With Herbs. Retrieved from

Keep in mind that reducing salt in your diet is a process. Becoming more aware of the sodium content of foods is the first step in making lower sodium food choices.