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assessments, and information on the sodium density of the food supply lend support to the upward intake trend during the past 30 to 40 years.


Identifying Food Sources of Sodium

The ability to characterize the food sources that contribute sodium to the diet helps to clarify the nature of the food supply and to suggest those food categories that are the major contributors. The analyses reported here are based on the same 2003–2006 NHANES used to provide the estimates of sodium intake described earlier in this chapter. The description of the methods for defining and sorting food categories can be found in Appendix E. Eleven major food categories were specified. Examples of several products that demonstrate variation in sodium content among different brands for similar foods are discussed in Chapter 4.

Contribution on Basis of 11 Food Categories

Figure 5-8 shows the percentage contribution to sodium intake from 11 major food categories. Mixed dishes, which consist of foods such as sandwiches, casseroles, pasta entrées, and pizza, contribute nearly half (44 percent) of the total sodium from foods. Other major food categories include meat and meat alternates, including cheese and eggs (16 percent), grains (11 percent), and vegetables (9 percent).14 The remaining food categories each contribute 5 percent or less of total sodium intake from foods (see Appendix F, Table F-8).

Beyond the food categories “fruit” and “fats/oils,” it is difficult to comment on differences over time in these relative contributions because the major grouping schemes used to categorize foods have not remained consistent.

Further, Table 5-7 displays the top five foods that contribute sodium to the diets of persons 2 or more years of age in rank order within each of the 11 major food categories. For example, within the food category of mixed dishes—the category that is the largest contributor to dietary sodium—the main contributors (in rank order) are sandwiches (excluding burgers), pizza, hamburgers/cheeseburgers, Mexican entrées, and pasta dishes. For most food categories, the top 20 foods (see Appendix F, Table F-8) account for all or nearly all of the sodium contributed by that food category.


Raw vegetables and fresh-cooked vegetables without salt or other sodium-containing seasonings or added sauces provide little naturally occurring sodium.

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