Salt: Find Out Where It's Hiding

From a nutritional standpoint salt has received a pretty bad rap in recent years. And rightly so — it has been linked to everything from rising blood-pressure levels to cancer.

Like many foods and drinks in life, though — such as alcohol, sugar and high-carb foods such as bread and pasta — it has received a bad reputation through overconsumption.

In fact, salt, like water, is absolutely essential to your health. Without enough salt, indivuduals can suffer deep fatigue, dehydration, hyperthyroidism, and even death.

Both natural and common salt are preservatives and flavor-enhancers in foods. But why do nine out of 10 Americans consume far beyond the recommended intake of sodium every day? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the culprit is processed and restaurant foods — even those foods that don't necessarily taste salty.

General U.S. dietary guidelines suggest that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, but this applies to fewer than one-third of Americans. The rest, a whopping 70 percent of the population — middle aged, elderly, or African-American — should consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The CDC calculates that if everyone made an effort to follow the guidelines, our daily sodium intake could drop by 11 percent, or 360 mg, we could avert up to 28,000 deaths, and save $7 billion in health-care costs a year. Today, the average person is consuming a whopping 3,266 mg per day.

So, where is the sodium coming from? Most all of our food contributes to daily sodium intake, but a whopping 75 percent comes from processed and restaurant foods, while only about 10 percent comes from what we've added at home. A recent CDC update names five foods that seem to be staples in the American diet as contributing the most sodium.

Breads and bread rolls: Whether it's what you use to make a sandwich, dip in soups, or enjoy alongside a meal, bread is contributing to a huge amount of our sodium intake. Read labels to find lower sodium options.

Cold cuts: That's right, deli meats are contributing significantly to our daily sodium intake. If possible, choose the low or no-sodium counterpart to your favorite deli meat — you can add salt at home if you need to, in comparison it will be much less than the full salt version.

Pizza: What is it about pizza that lands it a spot on this list? The dough! Pizza dough is in essence a yeast bread, and to get that super savory, make you want to come back for more taste, pizza you eat out or do not cook from scratch, contains a hefty amount of sodium.

Chicken and mixed chicken dinners: Have you ever made chicken at home and added a considerable amount of salt? Or read the label on your fresh chicken to find that it contained sodium, in staggering amounts... well, restaurants and prepackaged chicken meals contain salt as well, between the various sauces, seasonings, and the side dishes, these chicken dishes contain much more sodium than you could imagine adding at home.

Soups: The next time you reach for a canned, or frozen soup, even in the prepared foods section in your market, take note of the sodium content — or ask the employees at the store for guidance. You're better off grabbing the lower sodium versions or comparing brands to find the soup naturally lowest in sodium and adding a pinch yourself.

So, what's the best way to cut down on your sodium intake? Supermarket Cook more at home, choose fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables — with no added sodium (check the ingredients). Your taste buds will acclimate soon enough and you will learn to prefer foods that are less salty. When using canned vegetables or beans that may contain salt as a preservative, rinse well with water to remove as much salt as possible. Cut back on processed foods; read and compare labels and consider eating out a treat.