Ninety percent of Americans eat more than the recommended daily limit of salt, according to the American Heart Association. The recommended value is 1,500 milligrams; the average person eats around 3,400 milligrams per day. And while you might think that the sodium in the average American diet comes largely from salt packets poured over greasy fries, that is not necessarily the case.
Sodium comes from many sources, but the most prominent culprits in the typical diet are store-bought, processed foods and restaurant meals. Chain restaurant dishes tend to go heavy on the sodium — though some dishes are healthier than others. And TV dinners, premade foods, and processed snacks often supply much larger amounts of sodium than a home-cooked meal.
Sodium isn’t all bad. Your body benefits from salt in a number of ways and, in fact, you need salt to live — you just don’t need that much of it. Overdoing it on sodium can have negative health consequences over the long term. But eating a salty entrée now and again isn’t going to immediately cause these consequences; it takes chronic overconsumption to make a significant difference.
So how can you tell whether you’re overdoing it? You can look out for signs of too much salt consumption, such as bloating, thirst, and frequent salt cravings. You can also take a look at the foods in your diet and educate yourself about which ones contribute to your intake of sodium each day. A little knowledge can go a long way when it comes to making food choices. You may not realize it, but some of the salt in your diet is coming from these common foods.
You may have heard that some processed types of bread have added sugar, but you might not have known that they often contain salt, as well. Salt is almost always added to bread when it’s baked, but the amounts may vary. In addition to fiber and the other things you might consider when buying a loaf of bread, take a quick peek at the sodium on the nutrition label.
Buying canned vegetables instead of fresh could be an effective way to cut costs at the grocery store. But you might be adding more sodium to your diet in the process. There are no-salt-added or low sodium cans, so you might consider looking for those. But buying frozen vegetables is also a safe bet — those are just as healthy as fresh.
Even cereal is salty? It may not taste like it, and it’s certainly not table salt that’s sprinkled on top, but many processed cereals include surprising amounts of sodium. Milk has sodium as well, since all dairy naturally contains a little bit. Of course, there’s no need to panic and cut out dairy entirely — that could have other consequences. And there’s no need to eliminate cereal from your breakfast routine, either. But if sodium is a concern for you, check the label on your cereal to find out if it’s best for you. You may also want to take a look at the sugar content in a few of your favorites.
Cheese is one of those foods that will send your blood pressure through the roof if you overdo it. Though eating a moderate amount of cheese is fine and actually pretty good for you, the sodium and fat contained in cheese could easily tip you over the edge. Enjoy a sprinkle on your pasta or eat some cheese and crackers with your glass of wine. But maybe don’t indulge in a gooey, overloaded bowl of macaroni and cheese every day for dinner.
Sure, cold cuts are a convenient lunch staple and can be a healthy way to get more protein in your day. But slices of deli meat can be dense with sodium you might not realize is there. One slice of deli meat can have over 300 milligrams of sodium. So if you’re adding three slices to your sandwich, you might end up with more salt than you realize. Some cold cuts are hiding added sugars, too.
Mustard, ketchup, relish, and other condiments are concentrated sodium bombs. Use them moderately; a packet of soy sauce can have 300 milligrams of sodium. Ketchup, though some people think it tastes sweet, is also hiding a bunch of sodium — around 154 milligrams per tablespoon. It doesn’t help that these condiments are often used on already-salty foods like hamburgers and french fries. Again, these foods can totally be enjoyed in moderation. But keep in mind that heavy consumption of them might have some consequences for your blood pressure.
Precooked chicken and other types of meat can be convenient to keep in your freezer. But it might be worth the effort to cook the chicken yourself. Even grilled chicken strips packaged frozen can contain over 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Cottage cheese is low in fat and high in protein. But you might be surprised to learn that it has more sodium than you think — at least 400 milligrams per half cup. If you want the protein but not the salt, you can swap out cottage cheese for Greek yogurt as a snack. Both will give you lots of protein and calcium!
There are healthy frozen dinners out there. And don’t shy away from buying other things from the frozen food aisle, like frozen fruits and vegetables. But many TV dinners try to compensate for frozen, preserved meat and congealed sauces by loading the plastic plate with extra sodium. If you’re trying to cut back on sodium but are pressed for time making dinner, you could always try one of these life-saving 20-minute recipes instead.
Hot dogs are made of processed meat, which is often packed with hidden sodium. One hot dog typically contains around 560 milligrams of sodium, though this will vary from brand to brand. Once you toss on the toppings or squeeze a layer of condiments, the sodium content only increases from there. Again, though, it depends entirely on where you’re getting the hot dog from; some brands are more careful with their sodium than others.
Lots of people turn to instant oatmeal packets for a quick, healthy-ish breakfast. But if you’re worried about sodium, you might be better off adding mix-ins to plain oats instead. Some packets can have over 200 milligrams of sodium. Sure, that might not sound like a lot, but plain oats have zero. If you aren’t sure how to make oats taste good without a packet, you could try mixing in fruit, nut butters, granola, or honey.
When you make it yourself, you probably don’t add all that much salt. And you should really try it — pasta sauce is so easy to make! But store-bought pasta sauce, in addition to not tasting as great, could be made with lots and lots of added sodium (and sugar). It totally depends on the brand. Some pasta sauce can have nearly 500 milligrams of sodium per cup while others have less than 100.
Pickles, kimchi, and other pickled foods are nutrient-rich and healthy for your gut. But when vegetables are pickled, lots of salt is often added in the process. This adds flavor that contributes to the taste of pickles so many people have grown to love — but eating too much of it can be caustic to your health over time. One medium-sized pickle typically contains around 800 milligrams of sodium, which is around a third of your recommended daily limit.
Pairing your main dish with rice is a great way to add more fiber and healthy carbohydrates to your dinner. But some premade rice pilafs you buy at the store are sneaking lots of salt onto your plate. Rice on its own has hardly any sodium — but the flavorful blends get a lot of their, well, flavor from added salt. Make a rice mix on your own instead to make sure the amount of salt is more to your liking.
Some salad dressings are healthier than others — that’s for sure. There’s a big difference between the nutritional content of light vinaigrette and that of creamy ranch. When thinking about the healthfulness of your salad dressing, you might focus on the fat and sugar content, but salt is something to consider, as well. Salad dressings can contain large amounts of sodium, and it’s easy to over-pour and end up with more sodium on your salad than you intended.
People will often swap chicken or hamburgers for frozen veggie burgers if they’ve cut out meat. These frozen foods can be skimpy on the protein and heavy on the processing, often including lots of added sodium. You could always try making your own veggie burgers at home for a low-sodium alternative. But you could also branch out and eat other meatless meals that don’t come from the freezer aisle — but still taste great.
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