The Salty Six: Are the Foods You Eat Most Often High in Sodium?

Updated:Mar 6,2017

grocery cart Here's a look at some of the surprisingly saltiest foods in America’s sodium-heavy diet.

America has a major problem with sodium, or salt. We eat too much of it – on average more than double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association. And too much sodium means higher risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

So where’s it all coming from? We all know it’s in the chips and salt shaker, but how is it that we’re eating so much of it? The big problem is, more than 75 percent of our salt comes from processed and restaurant foods.
“Excess sodium in our diets has less to do with what we’re adding to our food and more to do with what’s already in the food,” said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., a research nutritionist at Northwestern University and an American Heart Association volunteer. “The average individual is getting at least five or 10 times more sodium than they need.”

salty sixHere’s a look at some of the saltiest foods we eat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some on the list might surprise you.

  1. Breads and rolls. We all know breads add carbohydrates and calories, but salt, too? It may not seem like it because a lot of bread doesn’t even taste salty, but one piece can have as much as 230 milligrams of sodium. That’s 15 percent of the recommended amount from only one slice, and it adds up quickly. Have a sandwich and muffin in one day? The bread alone could put you at about 1,000 milligrams of salt – or two-thirds of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams.  Be sure to check the nutrition label as different brands of the same foods may have differing sodium levels.
  2. Cold cuts and cured meats. Even foods that would otherwise be considered healthy may have high levels of sodium. Deli or pre-packaged turkey can contain as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium.  They have so much because most cooked meats would spoil in only a few days without the added sodium solution. Look for lower sodium varieties.
  3. Pizza. OK, everybody knows pizza’s not exactly a health food. But you’re probably thinking the big concerns are cholesterol, fat and calories. But pizza’s plenty salty, too. One slice can contain up to 760 milligrams of sodium. It doesn’t take a whole lot of math to realize two or three slices alone can send you way over the daily sodium recommendation. You may want to have fewer slices of pizza topped with vegetables and less cheese.
  4. Poultry. Surely chicken can’t be bad for you, right? Well, it depends on how the chicken is prepared. Reasonable portions of lean, skinless grilled chicken are great. But when you start serving up the chicken nuggets or poultry injected with added sodium solutions/marinades, the sodium starts adding up. Just 3 ounces of frozen and breaded nuggets can add nearly 600 milligrams of sodium. (And most kids probably aren’t stopping at 3 ounces.)  Check labels to be sure you are selecting the lower sodium version and that there are no added sodium solutions.
  5. Soup. This is another one of those foods that seems perfectly healthy. It can’t be bad if Mom gave it to you for the sniffles, right? But when you take a look at the nutrition label for some products, though, it’s easy to see how too much soup can quickly turn into a sodium overload. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 milligrams of sodium.  Look for lower sodium options that taste just as great!
  6. Sandwiches. This covers everything from grilled cheese to hamburgers. We already know that breads and cured meats are heavy on the sodium. Add them together, and you can pretty easily surpass 1,500 milligrams of sodium in one sitting.   Top sandwiches with plenty of vegetables, such as lettuce, tomato and cucumbers.

How do we shake the salt habit?
“Being conscious of food labeling in the grocery store is a good start to reducing the amount of sodium in your diet,” Dr. Van Horn said.  She suggests comparing different products’ sodium content and aiming to eat more fresh foods like produce, fresh meats and fish. Be sure to look for the American Heart Association’s Heart- Check mark – when you see it on a product, you know the food has been certified to meet nutritional criteria for heart-healthy foods.
“When you think of the grocery story, think of all aisles in the middle, where all the prepackaged foods are,” she said. “When you buy things that come in boxes, cans and frozen meals that is where the sodium has been added.”

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