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Where’s The Salt?

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Bread (Photo credit: ulterior epicure)

Are you watching your salt intake?   It’s not easy to do when the salt (sodium) is hidden in many common foods we eat most days.

Here are the facts:

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) analyzed data on 7,227 Americans over the age of 2 from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found the following:

  • 70% of the sodium consumed came from store-bought foods. In general, foods from restaurants contained more sodium per calorie than the same category of food from a supermarket.
  • More than 75% of sodium consumed is added to foods before we purchase them from stores (restaurants and fast food outlets included).
  • It’s estimated that only about 5-6% of the sodium total is added to cooking at home with a similar amount added at the table.

Americans overall, consume on average of 3, 266 mg of sodium a day.  This does not count salt added at the table or in cooking.

Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for people over should be consuming no more than 2300 mg/day.  The recommendations for all Africans-Americans, people older than 50, as well as those with hypertension, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease (about 57% of the population) should try to limit their intake to no more than1500 mg/day.

So where are these hidden sources of sodium?  The CDC has collected the top 10 food groups that contribute about 44% of our sodium intake in the U.S.

TOP TEN SODIUM Sources in the U.S. Diet

BREAD AND ROLLS = 7.4%.  It’s not so much when we think of one slice of bread, but we do love our bread and consume it frequently, so it begins to add up quickly.  Check the labels as the sodium content can vary with the product – e.g. a thinner, low-calorie bread slice may only contain 45 mg while a heartier brand can contain up to 200 mg per slice.   Always check the label for serving sizes and sodium content.

COLD CUTS AND CURED MEATS = 5.1%. No surprise here – curing uses salt.  Most store-bought “cold cuts” contain about 200 mg in a single slice and reduced sodium choice can contain about 25% less.  Most ham slices have about 289 mg in one slice to 218 in a “low-salt” sliced turkey.  One slice of bacon generally has about 180 mg; reduced sodium bacon is 82 per slice or meatless “bacon” only has 73 mg per slice.  Of course, you may lose the bacon “experience”  – your choice.

PIZZA= 4.9%.  One 14-inch pizza with the typical toppings, 1-cup mozzarella, pepperoni slices, and 1/2 cup of sauce can top off at nearly 6,000 mg depending on the amounts used. The only way to reduce it down is to make it yourself; use limited cheese or a lower-salt variety, a lower-salt sauce, or just tomato slices and plenty of other vegetables.  A large size California Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust Sicilian Recipe pizza has 950 mg for a 1/3 of a pizza. 

FRESH AND PROCESSED POULTRY = 4.5%. Most of the sources come from fast food, e.g. a six-piece chicken nugget serving has 540 mg, a “chicken club” sandwich can come in at 1000 mg; one fried chicken breast contributes 1050 mg.   Even fresh chicken can be a source if it is “enhanced” by being plumped with a salt-water solution to provide 330 mg without cooking or breading.

SOUPS: Canned soups are notorious as sodium sources.  One one-half serving of Campbell’s Double Noodle (marketed as “Healthy Kids”) contains 480 mg; however, they add some potassium (610 mg) to help balance the sodium/potassium ratio. The lower-salt condensed tomato soup still has 410 mg per serving versus 480 mg for the regular choice.

SANDWICHES AND BURGERS = 4.0%.  One Big Mac has 1040 mg and the plain old MacDonald hamburger has 520 mg.  And that amount is even before you eat one French fry.

CHEESE = 3.8%.  The problem here is that we add cheese to just about anything in the fast food world as well as at home.  Choosing the right one can make a big difference, however.  Here is the breakdown from lowest to the highest based on one ounce.

  1. Swiss cheese: 54 mg
  2. Monterey Jack: 152 mg
  3. Colby: 171 mg
  4. Cheddar: 176 mg
  5. Fontina: 227 mg
  6. Gouda: 232 mg
  7. Provolone: 246 mg
  8. Gouda: 232 mg
  9. Provolone: 246 mg
  10. Feta: 316 mg
  11. Bleu: 395 mg
  12. Parmesan: 454 mg

BTW: There is reduced sodium Swiss cheese at only 4 mg.  Haven’t tried it yet.

PASTA MIXED DISHES = 3.3% The worst offenders are restaurant entrees like these:

Olive Garden’s Lasagna Rollato al Forno at 2510 mg and Olive Garden’s lowest sodium choice in this category: Linguine alla Marinara at 900 mg. Watch the freezer case with some spaghetti with meat sauce entrees coming in at nearly 600 mg.  Again, home cooking is the best defense – find the lowest sodium pasta sauces you can find, e.g. Amy’s Light in Sodium brand has just 290 mg.

MEAT MIXED DISHES = 3.2%.  Again, processed foods provide the most compared to homemade.  Boston Market Meat Loaf has 1120 mg.  Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie contains 968 mg.   Cooking from scratch is the way to go here, too.

SNACKS= 3.1%.  Amazingly, “salty” snacks are at the bottom of the list.  That does mean they come in low – an 8 oz. bag of potato chips has 1348 mg.  To quote an old phrase – “bet you can’t eat just one” so there goes the old bag.  Try unsalted nuts for a healthier snack alternative to all the wheat or corn-based snacks, but watch the servings – calories can add up quickly.


  1. Look for reduced sodium products in all food categories.
  2. Be an avid label reader and watch the serving sizes.
  3. Try to avoid processed foods – the biggest culprit.

Tip:  You can wean yourself from your your salt-sensitive taste buds by eating less saltier food for a few weeks or better a month or two.  Then, if you eat a salty food – you will find that the salt is overwhelming and much too salty for your newly trained taste buds.  It works!!!!

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One thought on “Where’s The Salt?

  1. Instead of looking for lower sodium versions of store-bought foods, try making more from scratch. If you own a crock pot, you can easily make your own soups. Breads are not that hard to bake yourself with a little practice, and the more natural foods you eat you will notice how you need less (or no) salt to get flavour. If a burger is made with grassfed beef on a homemade bun, a nice big slice of cheddar won’t hurt one bit.


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