The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day — yet most of us get far more sodium in a day than that. And while you might assume that a lot of the extra salt we consume comes from having a too-liberal hand with the salt shaker, much of the excess sodium we get actually comes from processed foods.
These 10 foods dish up 40 percent of Americans’ sodium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You don’t have to banish them from your diet altogether; just shop smart and compare brands for the lowest sodium option.
Bread itself isn’t exceptionally high in sodium; a single slice contains anywhere from 50 to 230 milligrams. But collectively we eat so much of it that the milligrams add up.
2. Deli meats
Not only is salt added for flavor, but so are sodium-laden preservatives, such as sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrates lock in moisture and improve color — but they also add quite a bit of sodium to your sandwich.
The trifecta of dough, cheese and tomato sauce makes this American favorite a top source of sodium. And that’s before salty toppings like pepperoni or sausage. If you’re going to go for a slice, look for veggie pizzas without a ton of sauce or cheese.
4. Chicken dishes
Whether homemade, store-bought or packaged, it’s what’s added to the chicken dishes that makes them sodium-heavy. (Let’s face it: Chicken tastes best when liberally salted and flavored.) Plus, some raw chicken is “enhanced” with sodium solution for extra flavor and moisture. To avoid that, check the ingredient list to be sure you’re not buying a sodium bomb.
A single serving of canned soup can deliver upward of half your daily sodium limit. Made with salty broths, your favorite restaurant’s soup might not be a whole lot better than canned versions. Make your own so you know exactly how much sodium has been added. (And it’s always good to start with low-sodium broth.)
6. Sandwiches and burgers
When you combine bread with cold cuts and cheese or top a big bun with seasoned ground beef, ketchup, mustard and a pickle, sodium milligrams add up quickly. Top your sandwich with veggies, and go light on the condiments.
Salt isn’t just added to cheese for flavor. It’s also a preservative that helps extend shelf life. How salty cheese is depends on the type. Most Swiss cheeses, for instance, are naturally low in salt and are a good choice.
Pasta alone is practically sodium-free. It’s the sauce that’s the culprit. Skip salting your cooking water to cut down on some of the salt added through cooking, and look for a low-sodium sauce.
9. Meat dishes (like meatloaf or chili)
Beef itself contains a little sodium, but the way we most often prepare it adds considerably more (think: seasoned breadcrumbs in meatloaf, and canned tomatoes and canned beans in chili).
10. Snack foods (like pretzels, chips and popcorn)
In addition to their salty exterior, some snacks — like pretzels and crackers — have salt added to their dough.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.