Sodium/salt intake associated with increased risk of diabetes – (Yes, salt…)

Research results presented last week at the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes showed an association between salt intake and the risk of developing type II diabetes. Study participants that consumed the highest salt intake, about 1.25 teaspoons (2800 mg of sodium) a day, were 72% more likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest intake. In general, a salt intake of more than 5 grams a day (1950 mg of sodium) may contribute to the development of type II diabetes.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that we limit our sodium intake to less than 2300 mg a day or no more than 1 teaspoon of salt, in total. For people 50 and older or those with heart disease, high blood pressure or kidney disease, 1500 mg of sodium a day is the limit. On average, we consume about 3400 mg a day (slightly less than 1 ½ teaspoons). According to the study above, this amount of sodium a day puts us in the highest salt intake group.  To put this in perspective, the World Health Organization estimates that we only actually need between 200-500 mg a day for normal body function. So, we take in between 7 to 17 times the amount of sodium we actually need.

This is not a case where a little is good, a lot is better. Taking in many more times the amount of sodium than we physiologically need contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and now it seems - type II diabetes. While the study above was not intended to find out why sodium increases the risk of diabetes, the researchers suggest it may have something to do with insulin resistance. Another possibility is that higher sodium intake may be related to greater weight, which is a known risk factor for type II diabetes.  

This is not a case of - a little is good, a lot is better. Taking in many times the amount of sodium than we physiologically need contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and also according to the research above, type II diabetes.

Sodium naturally occurs in whole, unprocessed foods. According to the FDA, we get about 10% of our sodium this way. The salt we add in cooking adds another 5-10% of our daily sodium intake. The main culprit is the salt/sodium in processed foods, which accounts for about 75% of our daily consumption.

 Below are the foods that the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association dubbed the “Salty Six.”

 1.Breads and rolls – one slice can have up to 230 mg of sodium. Look for bread with no more than 80 mg per slice.

 2.Cold cuts and cured meats – One slice of salami has 214 mg of sodium, bologna has 254 mg, deli ham has 268 mg, and turkey has 288 mg. So, 2 oz. of deli meat which is about six thin slices, is more than 1200 mg of sodium, or more than half of the recommended daily amount. 

3.Sandwiches – given the amount of sodium in bread, deli meats and cheese, it’s easy to get over 1200 mg of sodium in one sandwich.

4. Pizza – on average, one slice of pizza has about 650 mg of sodium, pepperoni pizza can have more than 1500 mg.

5. Canned soups – one cup of canned chicken noodle soup can more than 1700 mg of sodium.

6. Chicken – raw chicken is often “plumped” up with injections of brine, broth, or other similarly labeled fluids that contain sodium.

Other sources of sodium in processed foods include:

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
Baking powder (sodium bicarbonate + cream of tartar)
Soy sauce                                                      
Disodium guanylate (GMP)                     
Disodium inosinate (IMP)                     
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Disodium phosphate
Sodium ascorbate
Sodium citrate
Sodium chloride
Sodium diacetate
Sodium erythorbate
Sodium glutamate
Sodium lactate
Sodium lauryl Sulfate
Sodium metabisulfite
Sodium phosphate
Sodium nitrate or nitrite
Sodium caseinate
Sodium propionate
Sodium sulfite
Trisodium phosphate

Some tips help you reduce your sodium intake:

  • Read food labels and choose brands with the least amount of sodium per serving.
  • Use fresh vegetables or plain-fresh frozen instead of canned, processed or those in sauces.
  • Limit cheese - eat half the amount.
  • Snack on fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Choose unsalted snacks (nuts, crackers, etc.)
  • Opt for low sodium versions of prepared foods.
  • Use herbs and pepper to enhance flavor instead of salt.
  • Rinse canned foods before using.
  • Make your own broth and soups and freeze them.
  • Avoid “instant” anything.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table.

For more information:

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association
Sodium & Salt

Break up with salt

World Health Organization
Sodium intake for adults and children

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Lowering salt in your diet


Copyright (2017) Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC.



Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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