The average American consumes about 4,600mg of sodium each day, double the daily recommendation of 2,300mg and more than triple the 1,500mg suggested for people age 51 or older. Where does it all come from? Not your salt shaker, and not as much as you might think from the usual salty suspects like chips, pickles, ham, hot dogs, nuts and popcorn. Here, we reveal foods with a surprisingly high salt content, and alternatives that offer equal (or better flavor) and a lighter sodium load.
They have twice as much salt as the traditional oil-roasted variety: 230mg compared with 123mg. Go with the oil-roasted peanuts.
Most cold cuts contain lots of sodium, but pastrami and dry salami are highest. Pastrami can have nearly 2,000mg of sodium per 4-ounce serving. Go with real sliced roast beef instead, at 250mg of sodium per 4-ounce serving. Some deli counters even have no-salt added roast beef with only 40mg of sodium per serving.
One serving of homemade rice pilaf contains 77mg of sodium, while a serving of one of the boxed mixes contains 816 to 1,060mg of sodium, a big difference. Make your own pilaf at home using low-sodium ingredients like cranberries and pecans, herbs and spices.
A cup of most canned soups can have 600 to 1,300mg of sodium. A cup of traditional chicken noodle has 866mg. Look for reduced sodium or “healthy” versions, and pick the ones with the lowest sodium, usually 300mg or less per serving.
Au gratin and scalloped potatoes, frozen hash browns and Tater Tots are all high in salt. Even instant mashed potatoes can pack it in, with up to 700mg per one-cup serving. Look for lower-sodium versions, or make your own with less salt.
The range is wide: Raisin bran has 360mg sodium per cup, while puffed rice and puffed wheat have no sodium. Cheerios are a good compromise, at 160mg per serving. Or you can mix a no-sodium cereal with one with a higher sodium content and create your own compromise.
A cup of regular V-8 has 650mg of sodium, more than you probably want to get from a vegetable serving. Buy low-sodium juice, and spike it with lime juice as a flavor enhancer. Or make your own juice cocktail using tomatoes, carrots, kale, celery and hot peppers, and get the nutrients without the sodium.
Most (not all!) are loaded with sodium, and the range is wide, from 500mg to more than 2,500mg per serving. Look for dinners with less than 1,000mg per serving, mostly those from healthier brands like Kashi, Healthy Choice, and Lean Cuisine. Note: Lighter versions may have less fat but not less sodium.
Most of us already know a wiener is a salty dog (504mg per dog, although you can find some as low as 300mg each.) But did you know the toppings can add several hundred milligrams more? Catsup has about 170mg of sodium per tablespoon; sweet relish, about 125mg. Mustard varies a lot, from 20 to 100mg per teaspoon. Stick to onions and a dab of mustard or catsup. Juices
There are about 1,000mg of sodium in one packet of ramen noodles, making this dish a seriously salty snack. Dilute the salt by making the noodles into a meal for four. Add a cup of cubed cooked chicken or shrimp, and a cup of mixed vegetables, such as peas, carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts, or water chestnuts. If the noodles come with a flavor packet, you can use less of the packet and season instead with garlic, hot red pepper, herbs and sesame oil.
This includes not just seasoned salts, but seafood and taco seasonings, barbeque sauces, curry pastes, Cajun and barbeque rubs and blends. Check the label to see how much sodium is really in it, and comparison shop for lower-sodium brands. Try making your own spice blends instead. Use sweet vinegar, lemon juice, orange or pineapple juice as a base for marinades instead of soy sauce, which has 1,000mg or more of sodium per tablespoon.
Frozen or take-out, expect 600 to 800mg of sodium per slice. To trim your intake, choose thin crust over thick crust, vegetable toppings over meat toppings, and less cheese. Look for pre-packaged brands that have 500 mg or less per slice.
A teaspoon can have anywhere from 125 to 200mg of sodium. Use real hot peppers, cayenne powder or red pepper flakes instead.
Made from mix or served at a restaurant, one six-inch pancake has 370mg of sodium. Look for reduced-sodium pancake mixes or make your own using a mix of whole wheat and buckwheat flours.
Blame it on the Colonel. Fast food fried chicken is one of the top contributors to high sodium tallies. One fried chicken breast has 1,287mg of sodium, more than half your daily allotment. One fried chicken wing has about 500 mg of sodium (and you know, you can never eat just one). Remove the skin, or opt for a grilled chicken sandwich instead to save on sodium, fat and calories.
Some of the biggest chicken producers inject raw chickens with a salt solution which can add as much sodium as you’d find in a fast food meal. In the past, these chickens were allowed to be labeled as “all natural.” Now, new labeling requires that the amount of sodium added to the raw meat be listed clearly on the label. So read the package before you buy, and go with no-added-salt brands.
One average eight-inch white flour tortilla has 450mg of sodium. Brands that are lower in sodium are also lower in fat and carbs and high in fiber (such as La Banderita) and come in under 300mg of sodium.
Bread is the major source of sodium in the American diet because we eat so much of it. One slice of white or wheat bread can have 150 mg of sodium per slice. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. Rye bread has more than 200mg per slice. Look for reduced or low-sodium breads such as Ezekiel bread, which has only 7mg per slice. You can also find reduced-sodium bread mixes.
Traditional spaghetti sauce can have up to 500mg of sodium per half-cup serving. But there is a nice selection of reduced-sodium and no-added-sodium versions, both among the organic brands and big producers like Hunt’s and Del Monte, which go as low as 25mg per serving. Try some different brands until you find one you like. Or make your own sauce using fresh tomatoes or no-salt puree.
Regular Swiss cheese is usually the lowest in sodium of all cheeses and of the low-sodium varieties on the market, Swiss tends to be the best. (Boar’s Head Lacey Swiss is one, with 35 mg per serving.) That said, Boar’s Head munster and provolone, and Heluva Good’s white cheddar and fresh mozzarella worth checking out. The worst offenders: processed cheese-like products, such as Velveeta at 400mg per 1 ounce.
One cup of canned corn has 571mg of sodium; peas and carrots, 663mg. Rinse veggies to remove a lot of the salt. For convenience, plain frozen veggies are a great alternative. And of course, fresh veggies have very little natural sodium.
Making a few smart choices will keep you healthy on your next vacation—and happily looking forward to the next one!
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