Sometimes I talk to clients or students who really don't think sodium intake matters because they don't have high blood pressure, but from the perspective of someone who highly values disease prevention, I think it does matter. We do actually need a small amount of sodium daily since it performs many vital functions in the body, such as aiding muscle contraction, assisting with nerve transmission, and maintaining proper blood pressure. However, evidence continues to suggest that high sodium intakes are linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk for several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and stroke. You may not be concerned about your blood pressure, but consider these staggering figures:
- 1 in 3 American adults has hypertension
- 1 in 4 American adults has prehypertension
- Middle-to-older aged adults may have a 90% likelihood of developing hypertension over their lifetime
What are the current recommendations for sodium intake? Current guidelines on sodium intake recommend no more than 2300 mg a day for healthy young adults. This is the equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. However, recommendations for middle-aged to older adults, African-Americans, or those with chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, suggest no more than 1500 mg/d.
How much sodium does the average American consume? 3,436 mg/d, which is about 50% more than recommended! But believe me, I've seen higher! Many people think that the biggest source of sodium in the diet comes from adding salt to food during cooking or at the table, but the real truth is that most of the sodium in the typical American diet, or a whopping 77%, comes from processed foods. While some of those foods might seem obvious (eg, canned soup or salted pretzels), others may surprise you. Here's my list of 10 higher sodium foods that you might not expect.
Chicken or Turkey: Some brands, especially store brands, infuse their chicken breasts and thighs with a sodium-containing solution. One store brand contained 290 mg per serving of chicken breast. In an effort to save time, some people opt for the pre-seasoned ground turkey; however, this stuff is loaded to the tune of 680 mg per serving, which is more than a McDonald's 6-piece chicken McNuggets!
Veggie or soy burgers: Veggie and soy burgers are popular choices among vegetarians, vegans, or those who enjoy a meatless meal on occasion. However, the commercially-prepared versions can pack quite a salty punch. One brand of veggie burgers contains 400 mg per patty! Another popular brand of soy burgers could run up your sodium intake by 520 mg per burger! Both of these contain more sodium than a Taco Bell Taco Supreme.
Low-fat cottage cheese: A 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese will run around 459 mg of sodium. Ouch! Get the "no sodium added" version, and you'll cut the sodium content by 94%!
Bagels: One medium-sized 100% whole wheat bagel that I recently checked out contained 400 mg of sodium. That's more sodium than a large order of McDonald's French Fries!
Salad dressing: Many commercially prepared salad dressings are high in sodium given the typical serving size of 1-2 Tbsp. A vinaigrette from one popular brand of salad dressings contains 390 mg per 2 Tbsp! Whip up your own, and you could save significantly on the sodium.
Pita bread: A typical serving of whole wheat pita bread contains about 340 mg of sodium. That's more sodium than a small dill pickle!
Protein shakes: Often promoted as meal replacements or between-meal snacks, these can be higher in sodium as well. One brand of protein shakes reviewed contained between 220-270 mg of sodium per 8.25 ounce serving. Drink a glass of low-fat milk or a smoothie, and you'll cut the sodium by at least half.
Granola bars: This granola bar contains 250 mg per bar, which is more sodium than a serving of potato chips!
Oatmeal: For those of you looking for a quick, nutritious breakfast, beware of that instant stuff because it can really take a toll on your sodium consumption. One brand of high-fiber instant oatmeal includes 210 mg of sodium per packet.
Let me leave you with these suggestions:
- Consider balancing your intake of higher sodium foods with naturally lower sodium foods, like vegetables and fruits.
- Consider moderating your intake of higher sodium foods. Maybe you don't consume those foods at every meal or snack or maybe just not everyday. Maybe you eat a smaller portion of that food.
- Read your food labels carefully. In order to be labeled "sodium free", a food must contain 5 mg or less per serving. In order to be labeled "very low sodium", a food must contain 35 mg or less per serving. In order to be labeled, "low sodium" a food must contain 140 mg or less per serving. Select foods that state "unsalted", "no salt added" or "without added salt" on the label.
- One of my faves...prepare more food yourself. This way you get to be in the driver's seat of the sodium content of your own food.
What foods have had a sodium content that surprised you?