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Hidden Salt: 8 Surprising High-Sodium Foods

This heart-disease culprit shows up where you'd least expect it

By Beth Levine and

(This article appeared previously on

We all know we shouldn't eat too much salt and that overdoing it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart-related diseases. The problem is that salt is hidden everywhere — even in foods that you might not suspect, like salad dressings and chicken breast.The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 2300 mg of sodium a day. If you’re over 51, African American, or have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes, you should limit it to under 1500 mg.

Our Sodium Intake Is Off the Charts

The problem: According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the estimated average intake of sodium for Americans ages 2 and older is approximately 3400 mg per day.

(MORE: How to Navigate the Diet Landscape)

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed or restaurant foods, so think twice before you buy those heat-and-eat dinners in the supermarket freezer case or order that nachos grande at your favorite eatery.As for foods in your home, here are the eight worst sodium offenders:

1. Bread “Bread and rolls by themselves aren’t that high [in sodium], but we eat so much of them. A slice of bread can have 120 mg, so it can add up quickly,” says Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., RD, professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont and an AHA spokesperson. Add on salted butter or a condiment and the number goes up even more.

2. Cold cuts and cured meats A 2-ounce serving (about six, thin slices) can gobble up half your daily recommended allowance of sodium. Yes, half.

3. Pizza Well, you never thought of it as health food, but the main concern was more about fat and calories. Did you know that one slice can also equal half your RDA for salt?

4. Chicken That boneless breast may be labeled “all natural,” but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been injected with salt water to improve taste and juiciness. Four ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breasts can have from 40 mg to 330 mg of sodium. Three ounces of breaded restaurant chicken strips can have between 430 to 900 mg.

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Foods That Will Bring Your Blood Pressure Down)

5. Soup Canned soups can be loaded with salt as a preservative and to boost taste. (Canned vegetables are big offenders, too.) Regular soups — not those marked low-sodium — can contain 600 mg or higher per serving.


6. Processed cheese A one-ounce slice of American cheese may look harmless enough, but it alone can contain 330 to 460 mg.

7. Breakfast cereals You wouldn't think cereal would be on this list, but it really pays to read labels in this category. Sodium levels can vary enormously. A serving of Fiber One Honey Clusters has 230 mg and a serving of Quaker Oats Instant Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal has 260 mg while Kashi Lean has only 80 mg.

8. Jarred spaghetti sauces, condiments and salad dressings These are huge salt magnets. Jarred spaghetti can contain more than 400 mg per serving. Salad dressings differ vastly, but can go as high as 400 mg for two tablespoons. One tablespoon of mayo can have 125 mg and the equivalent amount of ketchup can have 190 mg. Those last two may not sound high but in reality, when you use them, do you really keep it to one tablespoon? It all adds up.

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Simple Ways to Slash Your Salt Intake)

How to Cut Your Sodium Intake

Here are five ways to lower the amount of sodium you eat or drink:

  • Read the nutrition labels. Sodium levels are clearly marked.
  • Beware of misleading labels. “Food products that are labeled 'low fat' or 'low calorie' may be adding more salt to make up for taste,” says Johnson.
  • Look for products labeled “low sodium” (contains less than 140 mg per serving), “very low sodium” (less than 35 mgs) or “sodium free” (less than five mgs). Also, check out products that carry the AHA’s Heart-Check endorsement. It means the product has less than 480 mg per serving.
  • Learn to cook with reduced salt. You can boost flavor with herbs, spices and citruses such as lemon and lime. (Hint: Don’t use garlic salt or onion salt.) “You can train your taste buds to be accustomed to lower sodium intakes,” says Johnson.
Beth Levine Read More
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