Hidden killer: Fast & processed foods loaded with sodium
November 30, 2007
Government guidelines set 2,300 milligrams of sodium (salt) a day as the safe upper limit. The Institute of Medicine says 1,500 milligrams a day, or a little less for older adults, is enough to regulate the body’s fluid balance, the mineral’s job. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recommends even less, 1,200 to 1,500 mg of sodium each day for adults.
Yet the average American consumes between 3,300 and 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day.
Excessive sodium consumption has been repeatedly linked to the development of stroke, high blood pressure, and subsequent heart disease, the world’s number one killer.
The majority of the sodium, 77 percent, comes from eating prepared or processed foods. For example, one serving of Progresso’s Hearty Tomato soup contains 960 mg of sodium, Wendy’s Homestyle Chicken Strips, 1450 mg, a Burger King Whopper with Cheese, 1450 mg, Swanson’s Classic frozen dinner (with Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Corn), 2,030 mg! And consumers keep getting fed more and more without even knowing it. For example, between 2004 and 2007, average sodium in sliced cheese rose 35 percent, and frozen pizza saw a 23 percent jump.
The average U.S. diet has three main sources of sodium:
1. Processed and prepared foods. Most sodium (77%) in a person’s diet comes from eating processed and prepared foods, such as canned vegetables, soups, luncheon meats and frozen foods. Food manufacturers use salt or other sodium-containing compounds to preserve food and to improve the taste and texture of food.
2. Sodium-containing condiments. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,005 mg of sodium. Adding these or other sodium-laden condiments to your meals — either while cooking or at the table — raises the sodium count of food.
3. Natural sources of sodium. Sodium naturally occurs in some foods, such as meat, poultry, dairy products and vegetables. For example, 1 cup of low-fat milk has about 110 mg of sodium.
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a 4-inch oat-bran bagel has 451 mg of sodium.
The best way to determine sodium content is to read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label tells you how much sodium is in each serving. It also lists whether salt or sodium-containing compounds are ingredients. Examples of these compounds include:
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Sodium nitrate or nitrite
You can control your sodium intake several ways:
Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham are.
Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, select those that have reduced sodium.
Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, stews and other main dishes. Baked goods are an exception.
Limit your use of sodium-laden condiments. Salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance foods. Learn how to use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit and fruit juices to jazz up your meals.
Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt (sodium chloride) and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute and actually not reduce your sodium intake. In addition, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Though dietary potassium can lessen some of the harm of excess sodium, too much supplemental potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or if you’re taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Bottom Line: Watching your sodium intake now can provide big health payoffs later.
Eat more whole, simple foods.
Buy less processed foods.
Check labels carefully. Don’t be decieved by “lower salt” labels.
Compare and choose the product with less salt.
Keep count. Aim for 1,500 mg or less per day.
To check out brand name comparisons of sodium levels go to: