That’s why most of us go easy on the salt shaker, thinking we’re doing more than enough to stave off these sodium-related illnesses.
So, why are most Americans still eating double the sodium levels recommended by the World Health Organization?
We can thank processed foods for that – even the ones that look healthy! It’s estimated that over 75% of our sodium intake comes from the salt already added to foods we buy, not what we sprinkle on at the dinner table.
So, How Much Salt Should We Have a Day?
For optimum health, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day – that’s less than one teaspoon of regular table salt.
If you are age 51 or older, are black, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, then no more than 1,500 mg of sodium is advised.
But the American Heart Association puts forward an even more conservative figure. They recommend that we ALL consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day, which equates to 0.75 teaspoons or 3.75 grams of salt.
It’s this number we’ll be using as our guide when figuring out the sodium content in some common foods.
Here are some of the worst offenders out there:
Most people consume bread daily – whether it’s the sliced variety, or comes in the form of a bagel, wrap or pita.
A large slice of bread can contain around 204 mg of sodium. If you’re making a sandwich, even before you add the filling, you’ll be looking at 27% of your Recommended Daily Value.
A large poppy seed or onion bagel can have around 400 mg per serving.
Given that the average American consumes 53 pounds of bread per year, it’s clear that this is one huge source of hidden sodium.
Pastries & Donuts
Don’t be fooled by sweet-tasting foods – they can pack in just as much sodium as their savory rivals, if not more!
One large fruit-filled Danish pastry can contain over 500 mg of sodium, a third of your maximum daily intake!
A Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Chocolate Stick beats even that at 540 mg.
It’s bad enough that we need to worry about the shocking sugar content of some of these foods, without worrying about the salt too!
A simple jar of organic pasta sauce can seem like a healthy dinner option. And it can be, if we choose wisely.
But take, for example, Prego’s Organic Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, which contains a whopping 540 mg of sodium … per half cup!
Always check labels or, better yet, add pasta sauce to the list of things to stop buying, and start making.
Obviously, pizza isn’t healthy but even one little slice of a pepperoni pie can clock up 683 mg of sodium – that’s 46% of our maximum intake.
And really, who stops at one slice?
A medium Domino’s American Legend Pizza contains up to 8,240 mg of sodium (or 5.5 days’ worth).
Frozen ready meals are another option that we know aren’t healthy. But do you know just how bad they are?
Because these meals would otherwise taste like cardboard, they’re loaded with both sugar and salt.
Lean Cuisine is one brand deemed to be somewhat healthy in a sea of frozen offerings, but when you look closely, that’s not quite the case.
Their Chicken in Sweet BBQ Sauce will provide you with 710 mg of sodium, while seemingly super-healthy options like a Veggie Scramble or Mexican Beans and Rice both offer up 690 mg towards your daily intake.
Given bread’s sodium content, it’s not surprising that a sandwich will really elevate those salt figures … along with your blood pressure levels.
But did you know that a 6-inch sandwich from a fast food restaurant can contain up to 1,260 mg of sodium? Get a foot-long B.M.T. at Subway and that’s going to add up to 168% of your daily recommended dietary intake.
Along with bread, pizza and sandwiches, canned soup is another food that made the American Heart Association’s ‘Salty Six List’.
Many soups routinely contain 790 mg of sodium per cup, although a typical bowl contains around two cups – giving you your total RDV of salt for the entire day.
Fish is touted as one of the healthiest foods around – full of nutrients, protein and essential fatty acids. The American Heart Association even recommends eating fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice a week.
But, pay heed to the way the fish is prepared. It’s best to avoid the salted variety, for obvious reasons.
A chicken fillet is marketed as a healthy ‘whole food’ but, thanks to a process called ‘plumping’, it too has earned itself a place on the Salty Six List.
In order to enhance the flavor and increase the weight of chicken, saltwater, chicken stock and/or seaweed extract are injected into the raw meat.
This process means that the chicken you buy can contain up to 30% of its weight in saltwater – equating to around 440 mg per 4 oz serving. That works out at up to 500% more sodium than found in untreated chicken!
To avoid this bizarre process, check labels for phrases like ‘contains 15% saltwater’ or ‘contains chicken broth’.
You’ve probably heard the World Health Organization’s stance on processed meats – they pose a significant cancer risk.
Thanks to their sodium content, they’re also terrible for your heart.
Take bacon, for example. Just two small pieces could see you consuming 376 mg of sodium – 25% of your RDV. But, British research claims that some bacon can contain three times more salt than others from the same supermarket.
In fact, bacon is now considered the second-biggest source of salt in the UK diet. It’s likely the US story is pretty similar.
2015 University of Michigan research has found that cheese is as addictive as drugs, with the average American eating 35 pounds of the stuff every year.
Not only is it laden down with saturated fat, it’s also a significant source of dietary sodium. Three slices of Kraft American Cheese Singles will add up to 660 mg.
Even low-fat Cottage Cheese, thought to be a particularly healthy food, can contain over 900 mg of sodium per cup, or more than 60% of your recommended intake.
With meat being such a minefield, veggie burgers seem like a safer option. But these are often highly processed too – containing plenty of salt to add flavor.
A Burger King Veggie Burger has a huge 900 mg of sodium in it.
Even a veggie or soy patty you buy to prepare at home can contain around 400 mg – and that’s without the bun or sauces … which, as you can see below, aren’t without their fair share of heart-hurting salt.
Dressings & Sauces
We don’t tend to think about the calories, fat, sugar or sodium in things like dressings, ketchup, BBQ sauce or other condiments when we add them to our meals.
But we should!
Something that appears even more innocuous than dressings and sauces are stock cubes – those tiny little lumps of herbs and flavorings we add to homemade soup, in a bid to avoid the less healthy store-bought versions.
But one little Knorr Chicken Stock Cube contains 1,630 mg of sodium – more than any of us should be having in a day.
Vegetable juice can be a great way of getting vitamins and minerals, while staying hydrated.
If you make your own you have no cause for concern but, if you buy a pre-packaged drink, make sure to check the label.
Likewise, when it comes to whole vegetables, if you’re not preparing your own, check the labels on canned varieties.
One cup of canned cream corn contains 730 mg of sodium, while the entire can has 1,374 mg!
The plain variety of canned corn still clocks up a hefty amount of sodium – at 489 mg per cup, or 888 mg per can.
Herbs and spices are a fantastic way to flavor your food without adding salt. Many also confer a whole host of health benefits.
Just make sure you are using the ‘real deal’ and not a prepackaged seasoning, which can be high in salt and other additives.
Items like garlic salt contain up to 1,850 mg of sodium per teaspoon, while onion salt has 1,620 mg. Even a chili seasoning mix contains more than 300 mg of sodium per teaspoon.
Why not make your own homemade herb and spice mixes to pack your food with flavor? You can always adjust the amount of salt in each mix, or omit it altogether.
Restaurant Food & Takeout
There’s a reason why eating out is so much more pleasurable than cooking for ourselves – we have no idea how much sodium, sugar and fats go into these meals, so we can enjoy their incredible flavors guilt-free (or at least in blissful ignorance).
When consumer watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, undertook an analysis of adult-sized meals at 10 popular chain restaurants, they got some pretty shocking results.
Nearly 85% of the meals tested had more than the recommended limit for total sodium intake per day, with nearly half having two days’ worth of sodium in a single meal!
And several clocked in at around 7,000 mg of sodium – that’s almost five days’ worth of salt in one meal!
Takeout isn’t any better – a sweet and sour chicken with fried rice contains 119% of our recommended sodium intake.
Reduced Sodium Foods
When such high sodium levels are found in just about every type of processed food, it might seem like a safe bet to simply opt for the ‘reduced sodium’ variety.
Unfortunately, the label doesn’t really carry any weight when you discover that this FDA-regulated term doesn’t specify a maximum sodium content.
It simply means that a food must contain 25% less sodium than the original product.
But when a product contains 1,000 mg of sodium, it can market a ‘reduced sodium’ alternative, even though that alternative still contains 750 mg of sodium!
Instead, check packaging for claims like ‘low sodium’ – 140 mg or less per serving; or ‘very low sodium’ – 35 mg or less.