Secret Sources of Sodium

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can develop for a variety of reasons. Risk factors like age, race, family history, diet, and activity level are just a few. One common treatment for high blood pressure is a change in diet. Often people hear that they should “lay off the salt” as one way to reduce their blood pressure. While decreasing your salt intake is an important step to controlling blood pressure, only 12% of salt intake comes from salt added when cooking (American Heart Association).

Approximately 77% of salt intake comes from processed, restaurant made, and fast foods. What can make this confusing is that we don’t see the word “salt” on any of these foods, but rather the word sodium. Sodium is a mineral and is one of the elements found in salt. Instead of “laying off the salt,” try “laying off the sodium”! It is recommended by the American Heart Association to limit sodium intake to approximately 1,500 – 2,300 milligrams per day.

There are many “secret sources of sodium,” or, foods that you wouldn’t expect to have sodium but might in fact have high sodium levels. You may know that canned soup, frozen meals, and processed deli meats are notoriously high in sodium. But did you know that cheese, bread, and cereal can contain high amounts of sodium, too? Also condiments like soy and BBQ sauces, and salad dressings can also contribute to excessive sodium intake.

Instead of trying to memorize all the foods high in sodium, try these tips:

  • Get into the habit of reading food labels and aim for approximately 140 – 200 mg sodium per serving, or choose food items with a % Daily Value of sodium around 5%
  • Focus on consuming whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, unsalted nuts, seeds and legumes
  • Prepare more food at home and avoid eating at restaurants. Fast food restaurant meals can reach levels as high as 2,000 mg of sodium per meal.

Erica Lokshin, MS, RDN, LDN