Are You Getting Too Much Salt?
Most of us get more than we need. Recommendations from the American Heart Association and the U.S. government range from 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. If you want to cut back, you need to do more than ease up on the shaker on your table. Watch what you eat. You may be shocked by some of the foods that are high in salt.
They're quick. They're easy. And they're loaded with sodium. A 5-ounce frozen turkey and gravy dinner packs 787 milligrams.
Tip: A "lighter" version may have less salt, but it's no guarantee. Read the labels to be sure. It's possible that "lighter" refers to fat only.
Check out the nutrition facts label. Some brands of raisin bran have up to 250 milligrams of sodium in each cup.
Tip: Puffed rice and wheat don't have salt. Mix half of your favorite cereal with half of a salt-free choice. Or look for companies that make low-sodium cereals.
They help you get the 2 to 2.5 cups of veggies you need a day. But they can have a lot of sodium. One cup of vegetable juice cocktail has 479 milligrams.
Tip: Shop around. Many brands make a low-salt version.
They often have preservatives, sauces, or seasonings that add extra sodium. A cup of canned cream-style corn may have 730 milligrams.
Tips: Rinse canned veggies thoroughly, or look for labels that say "no salt added" or “low sodium." Check the freezer section, where you may have more luck finding an unsalted choice.
Packaged Deli Meats
One look at the salt content in packaged meats should stop you in your tracks. Two slices of dry salami made of beef or pork can have 362 milligrams of sodium.
It's a warm comfort food on a cold day, but watch out. It can be loaded with salt. A cup of canned chicken noodle soup has as much as 744 milligrams of sodium.
Tips: Look for reduced-sodium versions of your favorites. And always check the label carefully. You might find that one brand's "Healthy" version actually has less sodium than the "25% Less Sodium" variety.
Marinades and Flavorings
Some of your favorites may be super salty. One tablespoon of teriyaki sauce can have 690 milligrams of sodium. The same amount of soy sauce may have up to 1,024 milligrams.
Tips: Even "lower-sodium" soy sauce can have a lot, so use it sparingly. Go for vinegar and lemon juice to enhance flavor, since they naturally have less salt. Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.
Half a cup may have 554 milligrams of sodium, and that's barely enough to coat a helping of pasta.
Tips: Look for "no salt added" versions of your favorite sauces.
Spicing It Up
Adding spices to an entrée can be an easy way to forgo the salt shaker. Just make sure there's no hidden sodium in your selection. For example, canned jalapeno peppers (1/4 cup, solids and liquids) have about 568 milligrams of sodium.
Tips: Go for the pepper in its natural form to ditch the sodium used in processing. Or use herbs and salt-free spices instead.
Rethink those salty peanuts. An ounce of most dry-roasted brands have 192 milligrams of sodium.
Tips: For about the same amount of calories, an ounce of oil-roasted, salted peanuts has only 76 milligrams of sodium. Or better yet, buy the unsalted variety, which are practically sodium-free.
They're hard to resist, but they may have a lot of sodium in every ounce. Potato chips have 136 milligrams, cheese puffs 240, and pretzels 385.
Tips: Even "baked" or fat-free snacks can have the same amount of sodium or more, so check the label.
Rice, potatoes, and pasta in their natural forms are low in salt. But if you get the convenient "all-in-one" box and add the flavor packet, you may end up eating more than half of your daily allowance of sodium in just one serving.
Tip: Skip the packaged rice. Choose a plain, fast-cooking type and add your own seasonings. Or microwave potatoes to serve with your choice of fixings.
If you think those little extras you add to your food aren't a source of salt, think again.
- Ketchup (1 tablespoon) = 167 milligrams
- Sweet relish (1 tablespoon) = 122 milligrams
- Capers (1 tablespoon) = 255 milligrams (drained)
Tip: Go for low- or sodium-free versions. Or get creative with substitutions: Try cranberry relish or apple butter for a naturally lower-salt choice.
Watch the Serving Size
The amount of sodium you see on a nutrition label isn't for the whole package. It's just for one serving. Always check to see how many are in each container.
Food Label Claims
They can be confusing, but you can figure them out with this cheat sheet:
- Sodium-free: Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Very low-sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving
- Low-sodium: Less than 140 milligrams per serving
- Reduced sodium: 25% less salt
- Unsalted, no salt added, or without added salt: Made without the salt that's normally used, but still has the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself.
What's in a Name?
When you're scanning a food label, don't just look for the word "salt." Watch out for various forms of sodium or other names for the same thing:
- sodium alginate
- sodium ascorbate
- sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- sodium benzoate
- sodium caseinate
- sodium chloride
- sodium citrate
- sodium hydroxide
- sodium saccharin
- sodium stearoyl lactylate
- sodium sulfite
- disodium phosphate
- monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- trisodium phosphate
Check Your Medicine Cabinet
Surprise! Some headache or heartburn medications have sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. Read the ingredient list and warning statement to be sure.
Pitfalls When Eating Out
Restaurant food can be a huge source of hidden salt. Soups, appetizers with cheese or meat, casseroles, and rice pilaf are some dishes to watch out for. If you ask, most restaurants will prepare your food without added salt.
Better Menu Choices
Fish can be a lower-sodium option, as long as you pay attention to how it's seasoned. Steamed veggies, prepared without salt, are another smart choice. Also, try a salad with dressing on the side. Low-sodium desserts include fruit, ice cream, sherbet, or angel food cake.
‘Dos' When Dining Out
- Ask how the cook prepares your meal.
- Choose a restaurant where dishes are made to order.
- Ask the chef to make your dish without any type of sodium, then add a dash of salt-free seasoning you brought from home, or a squeeze of lemon or lime.
When You're Eating Fast Food
Try these helpful tips:
- Get rid of the toppings except for veggies like lettuce and tomatoes.
- Skip the cheese, go easy on condiments, and don't add salt.
- Don't supersize. Order off the children's menu for smaller portions
- Eat a low-sodium diet for the rest of the day.
- Ask for a nutrition fact sheet at the restaurant, or find it online before you go, to help you make the best possible low-sodium choices.
Who Should Go Low-Sodium?
U.S. guidelines call for about half of Americans to limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less per day, including:
- People age 51 and older
- People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or long-term kidney disease
Cutting back on salt can cut blood pressure in some people. It can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage in those who have high blood pressure.
Track Your Salt
Don't know how much you get every day? Keep a daily tally of what you eat and drink. Then look up how much sodium is in each item. You may be surprised at what you find. The average American takes in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, well above the limits recommended for good health.
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Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on Thursday, October 29, 2015
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