The Surprising Foods That Are Spiking Your Salt Intake
By Domenica Toscani, RD, Registered Dietitian—Virtua Nutrition
According to the FDA, the average person should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, your doctor has probably recommended a 1,500 mg daily limit. But, research actually shows the average American consumes a whopping 3,400 mg a day.
While hiding the salt shaker is an easy way to begin cutting your intake, salt also hides in many common, everyday foods—some that are obvious, and others that you might not suspect.
For (Salty) Starters...
Anything cured or preserved to have a long shelf-life likely has a high sodium content (salt, after all, has been used for centuries to preserve and flavor foods). The following should always be eaten in moderation, or, depending on your health, not at all:
- Cured meats (ham, bacon, deli/lunch meat)
- Almost anything canned or jarred (jarred foods that are sold cold and require refrigeration at home may have less salt than their shelved counterparts)
- Most condiments
Beware of Bread
Bread, really? It’s true: most bread is sodium rich, as salt plays a key role in fermentation and flavor.
- The average slice of store-bought bread contains around 150 mg of sodium (remember, that’s 300 mg if you’re making a sandwich).
- The rolls at popular bakery chain restaurants can have as many as 600 mg each.
However, not all bread is created equal. Several new alternative bread options, like the popular Food for Life Ezekiel varieties, are now available at most supermarket chains. These can be found in the freezer or on the bread shelf, and they’re generally preservative free, with no added salt or sugar, and are made with a blend of sprouted grains, legumes, soybeans, and spelt.
Seasoned for Convenience
Any pre-seasoned, off-the-shelf food item is likely to be high in sodium, even if it appears healthy at first glance. Take frozen vegetables, for example. Alongside the plain vegetables are sauced and seasoned vegetable blends; whether it’s Italian seasoned squash or a “fiesta” stir-fry, it’s sure to contain lots of sodium.
Seasoning at home gives you more control over sodium content. But seasonings themselves can also be a source of excess sodium, especially spice blends. You can actually make many popular seasoning blends at home by replicating the contents on the label but reducing or omitting the salt. Some popular brands also sell delicious salt-free seasoning blends right off the shelf. The same goes for bottled salad dressing—making your own at home is always a safer bet, but look for low-sodium varieties if you can’t.
Don’t Drink (or Sip) Your Sodium
Soups and some popular drinks also contain more sodium than you might expect.
- Canned soups are known for providing comfort when you’re sick, but can contain more than 900 mg of sodium.
- Soft drinks like diet cola can bump up your daily intake by 35 to 40 mg per can.
- Popular vegetable juice blends, touted for their healthfulness, can far exceed 400 mg of sodium per serving.
Ideally, keep soda consumption to a minimum and make soups and juices at home with low-sodium ingredients. You can find low-sodium alternatives in stores as well.
The Bottom Line: Read the Label, and Cook at Home When You Can
Everyone, regardless of their health status, should make a habit of reading food labels when grocery shopping. Many packaged and prepared foods have surprisingly high sodium content—many more than we listed here.
We all live busy lifestyles, and convenience foods are tempting, but they’re almost always a source of excess sodium. When you can, cook whole foods at home. This is the only way to know for sure that your meals won’t be loaded with hidden salt. When you need a quick meal solution, however, reading the labels can help steer you toward the reduced or low-sodium products that will keep you healthier in the long run.
Updated February 15, 2017