Reduce sodium (salt). Increase plain language!

Picture of a salt shaker with the symbol for Sodium (Na) written on it.

It’s that merry time of year when celebrations often involve eating. A lot. And how about that gravy — was it sodium-rich enough for you? Or did you practice your healthy principles and have a low-salt holiday meal?

Sodium is the actual mineral that causes high blood pressure if we eat too much of it. Salt is the most common source of sodium and the word most people use when talking about eating healthy. As veteran health literacy advocate Dr. Rima Rudd of the Harvard School of Public Health is famous for saying, “You don’t sit at the family table and say, ‘Pass the sodium, please.’ ”

When writing for health behavior change, it’s important to write clearly and use familiar words — while also educating readers about key terms they need to know. Whether it’s reading a Nutrition Facts label or talking to a nurse about blood pressure, sodium is a word people are likely to come across.

So how do you sprinkle some salt into your sodium? Follow one of our favorite (and simplest!) principles of writing for health literacy: Use the medical/scientific/technical term and then provide the plain language equivalent. Here’s an example:

9 out of 10 Americans eat more sodium (salt) than they need. Too much sodium increases your risk for health problems like high blood pressure.

The bottom line: Don’t shy away from the word “sodium.” Just be sure people know you’re talking about salt.


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