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Most of Your Sodium Intake Comes from these Five Foods

Sodium Intake

If you are trying to cut back on sodium, you are already likely avoiding what you might think are obvious salty choices. But you may be surprised to learn about the top 5 sources of sodium come from.


Sodium is a mineral that is essential to life. It is used to regulate fluid balance and to assist with nerve impulses and muscle function. But too much sodium can lead to blood pressure increases, which put you at higher risk of heart disease, kidney disease and some cancers such as stomach cancer.

When the doc says “cut back on salt,” the first thing you might do is put away the salt shaker but believe it or not, added salt during cooking and eating meals only contributes about 10% to our total sodium intake.

The largest contributor of sodium in the American diet is processed foods and foods that we eat from outside our homes. According to a new report from the CDC, 61% of the salt we consume daily comes from store-prepared and restaurant meals.

The best choice you can make to cut back on salt is to prepare more of your meals at home, using fresh ingredients versus boxed and canned and seasoning with fresh herbs and salt-free spices.

When eating at home, you should also be aware of the top five sources of salt in the American diet. You may think potato chips and pretzels are listed, but no – these didn’t make the top five (they are at number 7).

The top five culprits for sodium are:
• Bread – Number one, not because of how much salt each slice contains, but due to how much bread the typical American eats in one day. It adds up!

• Pizza – Cheese is a major source of sodium. Plus if you eat number 4 on your pizza (ie: pepperoni, ham, sausage) you could really be adding to your salt intake.

• Sandwiches – Not only bread, but also deli lunch meats contribute to sodium intake with most sandwiches.

• Cold cuts and cured meats – Bacon is obvious here, but you might be surprised at how much salt even a slice of deli turkey has!

• Soup – Remember here that portion size is really important. Most canned soups say that they are two servings, but we often eat them as one meal. Plus, we are probably eating a sandwich with our soup!

Also ranking highly on the list of salty foods are burritos and tacos, cheese, condiments, and breakfast foods such as omelets.

"Most Americans are consuming too much salt,” said lead researcher Zerleen Quader, an analyst from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new CDC report found that in 2013-2014, Americans consumed about 3,400 mg of salt daily – higher than the recommended amount for healthy adults (2300 mg) and more than double the recommendation for a heart-healthy diet (1500mg).

The American Heart Association suggests that if Americans cut back on sodium to 1500 mg/day, it could result in a more than 25% decrease in blood pressure and a healthcare savings of more than $26 billion.

How To Cut Back on Sodium:

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At the store/while shopping for food:
• Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find in your store.

• Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 milligrams (mg) or less per 4-ounce serving.

• Choose condiments carefully. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be sky-high in sodium. Look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.

• Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces. When you add these to a casserole, soup, or other mixed dish, there will be so many other ingredients involved that you won’t miss the salt.

When preparing food:

• Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to foods.

• Drain and rinse canned beans (like chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.) and vegetables – this can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.

• Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods right now, try combining them in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. You’ll get less salt and probably won’t notice much difference in taste. This works especially well for broths, soups, and tomato-based pasta sauces.

• Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt. You’re likely going to add other flavorful ingredients to these foods, so you won’t miss the salt.

• Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing to bring out the natural flavors in foods – that will reduce the need to add salt.

At restaurants:

• Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt.

• Taste your food before adding salt. If you think it needs a boost of flavor, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken, and vegetables.

• Watch out for foods described using the words pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce. These tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted may have less sodium.

• Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium too. Ask if smaller portions are available or share the meal with a friend. Or, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.

SOURCES: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 31
American Heart Association
Image source: By Marianne Casamance - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons