Surprising High-Sodium Foods
Some of the biggest surprises in terms of sodium are breakfast cereals, says Daphne Miller, M.D., author of The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World—Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home. But sodium levels in cereals vary widely: One cup of Grape Nuts cereal has 580 mg of sodium, while Shredded Wheat has 0 mg. Beller suggests shopping smart and checking sodium content on the nutrition labels—there should be no more than 220 mg per serving.
Watch it with the white bread—two slices contain 280 mg of sodium, compared to as little as 6 mg for the same amount of whole-grain bread. High sodium diets are not only linked with heart disease, but they also increase risk for kidney disease and cancer, says Rachel Beller, R.D., president of Beller Nutritional Institute. According to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, there is a direct link between a high sodium intake and gastric cancer.
Sweet drinks are another surprising source of sodium. Two tablespoons of unsweetened powder mix for a fruit-flavored drink contain a whopping 682 mg. “The USDA recommends not consuming more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but with the average American consuming 3,400 mg and upwards daily, learning how to lower our sodium intake is critical,” Beller says. Her substitution suggestion? “Unsweetened iced tea is naturally refreshing—drink up!”
Jarred Spaghetti Sauce
Although most pasta is low in sodium, it’s the sauce that’s the shocker: One cup of spaghetti sauce can contain 1,000 mg. Beller’s solution? "Make your own spaghetti sauce from ripe plum tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and a splash of healthy olive oil. You can also toss spaghetti with sautéed fresh veggies and olive oil for a healthy, yet tasty dish."
Frozen Broccoli with Cheese Sauce
Forget about the sodium-laden sauces packed with frozen veggies, as a mere ½ cup contains 490 mg of sodium. Joan Salge Blake, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, suggests buying plain frozen broccoli florets (½ cup = 10 mg of sodium) and sautéing them with onions and a little olive oil to create a flavorful side with negligible sodium per serving. According to Salge Blake, research suggests that as sodium decreases in the diet, so does a person’s blood pressure. And keeping blood pressure in a healthy range can reduce the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
Packaged Oven-Roasted Turkey
Since two ounces of packaged turkey breast have 620 to 670 mg of sodium, definitely look for low sodium versions (380 mg per two ounce serving). But to dramatically reduce the sodium in your turkey sandwich, Salge Blake says to buy a fresh turkey breast and cook it over the weekend. Two ounces of home-roasted turkey breast only contain 30 mg of sodium, and you’ll have enough tasty turkey for an entire week’s worth of lunches.
Chicken-Flavored Brown Rice
Salge Blake says to skip the seasoned brown rice microwavable pouch (1 cup = 710 mg of sodium) and buy the plain variety instead. Plain brown rice in a microwavable pouch only contains 15 mg of sodium per cup. Add flavor with chopped herbs, a tiny pinch of salt and some freshly-ground black pepper, or experiment with no-salt seasoning blends.
Canned Cut Green Beans
A half cup of canned cut green beans contains 380-390 mg of sodium. Choose low-sodium (or no salt added) canned veggies to reduce the sodium per serving by more than 95 percent, Salge Blake suggests. The same amount of canned green beans with no salt added contains a mere 15 mg of sodium.
Condiments are another sodium trap, Miller says. For example, one teaspoon of ketchup can have up to 150 mg of sodium. So go easy on the ketchup to save on sodium (as well as sugar). She also warns that products with sodium levels up to 140 mg per serving qualify to be labeled "low sodium," but this can quickly add up. “This amount is about 5- to 10-percent of your total daily recommended sodium intake,” Miller says.
What’s a sandwich without cheese? Simple cheese swaps can make a big difference when it comes to sodium, Beller says. Just one slice of American cheese contains 368 mg of sodium, more than double the sodium found in the same amount of mozzarella cheese (150 mg/slice).
When people eat cottage cheese, they are going for the protein, Beller says. But Greek yogurt has more protein and about 10 times less sodium: One cup of cottage cheese contains 840 mg of sodium, while one cup of 0% Greek yogurt has just 85 mg. An ideal swap!
Italian Salad Dressing
When dressing your salad, watch out for salt-laden salad dressings: Two tablespoons of zesty Italian salad dressing add 510 mg of sodium to your healthy greens. Top your salad with a splash of olive oil and vinegar instead and add 0 mg of sodium, Beller says. “You’ll also be saving calories and fat, so it’s a triple win!”