You probably already know too much sodium isn’t good for you. But did you know that even if you never add salt to your food, you’re likely still eating too much? Most Americans eat 50 percent more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams of sodium (or 1 teaspoon of salt) a day, and many aren’t aware they’re overdoing it. Unfortunately, when it comes to salt, you can’t trust your tastebuds—the more you eat, the more you tolerate the taste. And salt is added to food for more than just saltiness: it’s a preservative, but it also enhances color, texture, and flavor.
“It’s no easy task for consumers to consume the recommended amount of sodium in their diets,” says Susan Mayne, PhD, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “People will always have the choice to add salt to their foods. What they don’t have now is the choice to take it out.” That’s why it’s so important to learn how to spot the saltiest offenders.
The Saltiest Foods in the US Diet
More than 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from packaged and prepared foods. But there’s hope the trend will reverse: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently drafted new guidelines, calling for companies and restaurants to voluntarily cut back on salt. In the meantime, you need to know what you’re eating.
The worst offenders are “mixed dishes,” such as burgers, sandwiches, meat chilis and stews, and pizza, which include multiple ingredients, like bread, cold cuts, and cheese—all high in salt, so the sodium adds up fast! Take a look at the sources of sodium in an average burger and fries:
That’s 70 percent of your daily sodium needs in one meal! Definitely not ideal. But even a seemingly “healthier” ham-and-cheese sandwich tips the scales at 2,240 milligrams of sodium—your entire day’s limit.
12 Sneaky Sources of Salt
Savory meals aren’t the only foods you need to watch out for. Salt intensifies sweetness, which is why you’ll find it in sugary foods, too. Check out the shocking sodium content of these common items:
- Four 4 inch (10 cm) whole-wheat pancakes = 800 mg
- 1 cup (8 fl oz/240 ml) vegetable juice = 640 mg
- 1 cup (8 oz/226 g) cottage cheese = 696 mg
- 1 extra large blueberry muffin = 564 mg
- One 8 inch (20 cm) flour tortilla = 458 mg
- 2 slices of cheddar cheese = 366 mg
- 1 bag (6 oz/172 g) cherry-flavored candy = 360 mg
- 2 slices of sandwich bread = 274 mg
- 2 tablespoons lite balsamic vinaigrette = 310 mg
- 1 cup (1 oz/28 g) cornflakes = 240 mg
- 1 serving hot cocoa mix = 170 mg
- 1 tablespoon ketchup = 160 mg
More Salt Slashing Tips
Just as it’s virtually impossible to entirely cut saturated fat or sugar from your diet, it’s unrealistic to attempt to totally avoid sodium. Many healthy foods naturally contain it: milk has 110 milligrams per cup, and eggs have 140 milligrams each. However, you can become more salt savvy. Here are a few ways to significantly slash sodium from your diet.
- Limit ultra-processed foods: Fake foods, pumped full of not only salt, but also sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors, are hurting your health. Go for real food instead!
- Check food labels: A low-sodium food is anything less than 140 milligrams per serving, or 5 percent or less of the recommended daily value.
- Keep portion sizes small: If you do reach for a high-sodium food, like pickles, cheese, or olives, stick to a small amount.
- Compare brands: Similar foods can often have very different levels of sodium. Choose the one with the lowest amount.
- Make more meals at home: If you’re limiting processed foods and preparing your own dressings and sauces, it leaves a bit of room for adding a dash of salt to your cooking.
- Experiment with other flavors: Herbs and spices can add extra oomph to your meals, and come with disease-fighting antioxidants, to boot!
- Balance the negative effects of sodium: Eating foods rich in potassium, like fresh fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and legumes, can help flush excess sodium from your body.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.