10 Sneaky Sodium Bombs
You already know it’s best to lay off high-salt foods like movie-theater popcorn and French fries, but you also need to be on the lookout for less obvious foods that are loaded with sodium.
Salt is everywhere — in foods where you would expect it to be, as well as plenty where you might not.
Americans love sodium chloride, also known as common table salt — and they consume far too much of it. Unfortunately for savory-food fans, a diet high in sodium can wreak havoc on your health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, excess sodium increases your blood volume and with it, your blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure can increase your risk of serious conditions like heart disease and stroke.
We do need sodium, though, for important bodily functions like maintaining good fluid balance, transmitting nerve impulses, and moving our muscles. So how much sodium can you safely eat each day? The latest dietary guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend keeping sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams (mg), or just 1 teaspoon, per day. A limit of 1,500 mg could benefit you even more, according to the AHA — but if either of those aren’t possible for you at the moment, even cutting back by 1,000 mg could improve your blood pressure.
While most people already know it’s best to steer clear of high-salt foods like movie-theater popcorn and French fries, you also need to be on the lookout for less obvious foods that are loaded with sodium. From canned veggies to bread, here are secret salt mines to beware of.
Deli Meats Are Doused in Sodium
“Most people know better than to shake table salt all over their food, but there are plenty of hidden sources of sodium in our diets,” says Lanah J. Brennan, RDN. “Sliced deli meats and hot dogs are packed with sodium.” One hot dog can contain about 500 mg of sodium, while just two slices of regular deli ham can have close to 250 mg. “Choose fresh meats or fish instead, and try making an extra serving at dinner and using the rest to make your lunch the next day,” she advises.
Do check the nutrition labels of raw meats, though; sometimes they can be “plumped” with a sodium solution to help retain moisture that nonetheless can quintuple their salt content.
Your Breakfast Cereal Might Be Seriously Salty
The average American consumes more than 3,000 mg of sodium per day, according to the FDA, and cereals and other processed foods account for a large majority of our sodium intake. One cup of cornflakes can have almost 200 mg of sodium per serving, which can add up quickly if you aren’t measuring portion sizes. And other processed breakfast foods are even worse: Premade pancake mixes like Bisquick can have more than 400 mg per serving. “Instead,” Brennan says, “try making your own mixes from scratch using low-sodium baking powder and baking soda.”
Vegetable Juice Can Be a Liquid Salt Mine
Even a healthy-sounding option like vegetable juice can be high in salt. That’s why it’s important to read labels closely. Sodium content is listed per serving size; to be considered a low-sodium serving, it should be 140 mg or less, per the FDA. Even a can of tomato juice can be a mini sodium bomb, with more than 900 mg per 11.5-ounce serving. Your best bet is to squeeze your own fresh vegetable juice — a medium tomato has only 6 mg of sodium, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Canned Soups and Vegetables Contain Untold Salt — and Are Still Bland
Anything in a can could harbor sodium shenanigans. “Check all those can labels, and choose products with less sodium per serving,” says Brennan. A classic 10.5-ounce can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup contains 2,225 mg of sodium, for instance — basically your entire daily allowance. On the other hand, you can make your own soup using low-sodium broth and fresh ingredients.
To lower your sodium intake, buy your vegetables fresh instead of from a can, and be sure to rinse all canned veggies to remove excess sodium before eating. Half a cup of raw carrots has only 45 mg of sodium, and a cup of green beans has just 6 mg.
Flavor Packets and Condiments Are Teeming With Salt
Instead of using the salty flavor packets that come in boxes of macaroni and rice dishes, make your own flavorings with fresh ingredients. By using fresh herbs and spices, you can infuse plenty of flavor into your dishes without any additional sodium. Consider seasoning your meals with lemon juice, ground pepper, cumin, garlic, onion powder, and fresh herbs.
Also, be careful about pouring on condiments. Ketchup has about 150 mg of sodium per tablespoon, and soy sauce can pack almost a whopping 1,000 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Frozen Meals Can Be Freakishly Salty
The frozen foods section of your grocery store can be another hiding place for salt. A single slice of a frozen pizza can contain up 750 mg of sodium — and who eats just one? A single serving of frozen meatloaf might have 900 mg.
All that excess salt causes your body to retain fluid, which will not only leaving you feeling bloated, but can also lead to high blood pressure. Look for low-sodium options, or better yet, cook your own meals from scratch in bulk, and freeze leftovers for days you don’t feel like cooking.
Spaghetti Sauce Is Sneaky Salty
Spaghetti may make a frequent appearance in your dinner rotation, but if you are worried about your sodium intake, you might want to rethink how you prepare the dish. One cup of spaghetti sauce can have a sodium content of nearly 1,000 mg. If you’re a fan of meat sauce, you also have to factor in the additional sodium coming from the sausage or meatballs. As an alternative, make your own spaghetti sauce from ripe plum tomatoes and fresh basil and garlic. You can also toss spaghetti with fresh veggies and olive oil for a healthy, no-sauce dish.
Bread and Tortillas Bristle With the Briny Stuff
When it comes to breads, rolls, and tortillas, once again, you need to read the labels carefully. Don’t assume that all grains are the same. One 6-inch flour tortilla can contain more than 400 mg of sodium, and that number jumps to more than 500 mg for a 10-inch tortilla. Instead, choose plain corn tortillas, which contain just 15 mg of sodium in two 6-inch rounds. And if you’re grilling, a hamburger bun can add an additional 200 mg of sodium to your meal. Instead, try swapping in a lettuce wrap or portobello mushroom bun for added nutrients and flavor, without any extra sodium.
Your Dairy Might Dance in Salt
Dairy can be a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but some products may not be a smart choice when it comes to managing high blood pressure. Some dairy foods like cottage cheese, buttermilk, and processed cheeses can be high in salt. For a lower-sodium option, choose fresh mozzarella with 85 mg of sodium per ounce or Swiss cheese with less than 40 mg per slice.
Some Seafoods Are Saturated With Sodium
Seafood is a great addition to a heart-healthy diet. When prepared in a healthy way, seafood may help lower cholesterol, which in turn helps improve heart health. But you need to choose your seafood wisely, since options like shellfish and canned tuna fish are high in salt. Five ounces of canned tuna has more than 300 mg of sodium, and 3 ounces of frozen shrimp can have more than 400 mg. Better seafood choices include fresh tuna, salmon, halibut, and haddock.
Before putting any food in your grocery cart, follow this simple rule of thumb: “The bottom line on hidden food sources of sodium is to check your labels and choose products with less than 140 mg per serving,” says Brennan. And choose fresh, whole foods as often as possible.
Additional reporting by Monroe Hammond.