Salt — like its other white, grainy friend sugar — is in just about everything. Contrary to what many of us think, over 70 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from processed and packaged foods — not from sprinkling the salt shaker too much, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend people limit their intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. Sure, that may seem like a lot, but in reality, it's just one teaspoon of salt. However, Americans get an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium every day, according to the FDA. That's way too much.
Not only does eating too much sodium over the long term raise health concerns for people with kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and other chronic conditions, but it can also increase the risk for developing chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease, says New York-based dietitian Allison Knott, RDN, CSSD.
So where exactly is your salt hiding? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association's "salty six" list the saltiest processed foods out there — and we've got delicious swaps to replace them.
While most American adults could benefit from cutting back on salt, there are four groups that should limit their sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day, according to the CDC.
These groups include people with chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, adults over age 51 and African Americans. The latter two groups may be more at risk for salt-related diseases, making efforts to cut back on sodium a preventive measure, says Pennsylvania-based dietitian Melissa Rolwood, RD.
Bread can pack in around 230 milligrams per slice, and that's before you make a sandwich with two slices and fill it with meat and condiments. For example, Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty White Bread contains 230 milligrams per slice — that's 10 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of sodium.
Opt for low-sodium bread that packs in less than 100 milligrams per slice.
- Angelic Bakehouse 7-Grain Sprouted Bread, No Added Sodium ($4.99 per loaf on Angelicbakehouse.com)
- Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Flax Sprouted Whole Grain Bread ($4.99 per loaf on Amazon.com)
Plus, sprouted-grain bread may tout its own health benefits, including increased nutrient absorption, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Frozen pizza, while convenient, is often extremely high in sodium. Just one serving — that's one slice! — of DiGiorno Rising Crust Pepperoni Pizza has 730 milligrams. That's about a third of your DV. And if you're ordering a pie from a local pizzeria, chances are you don't know how much salt is hiding in each slice.
For a lower salt option, ditch the pepperoni (a huge source of salt) and go with DiGiorno Thin and Crispy Garden Vegetable Pizza, which has 370 milligrams of sodium per serving. Or opt for making your own pizza at home with extra veggies for added fiber.
Read more: 7 Healthier Pizza Recipes to Make at Home
3. Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
Sodium is used to preserve cold cuts and cured meats, and once you choose a flavored package (think Mexican-style or honey-roasted), you'll probably get even more sodium in your deli meat. Two ounces of Boar's Head Honey Smoked Turkey Breast has 480 milligrams — 20 percent of your DV — of sodium.
If you make your sandwich with Boar’s Head No Salt Added Turkey Breast, you’ll get just 55 milligrams of sodium per serving. “Fill the rest of the meal with vegetables or fruit," Knott says. "You can still get the full flavor you crave, but the reduced portion size will help you cut back on sodium."
Like cured meats and cold cuts, canned soups are made with high amounts of sodium for preservation purposes. A can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup contains not only nostalgic memories of snow days, but also 2.5 servings.
One serving has 890 milligrams of sodium — almost 40 percent of your DV. So slurping up the entire can means you'll get your full day's worth of salt in one sitting.
You can choose a lower-salt version and add your own ingredients. Rolwood likes to add her own pasta, vegetables and water to canned soups, adding in spices instead of more salt for flavor. "You can stretch your soup further with things that aren't salty," she says.
5. Burritos and Tacos
Cooking at home is a good way to cut back on sodium, but it's also important to choose better-for-you ingredients. Homemade tacos, for example, can be a healthy dinner if you use reduced-salt seasoning — or even better, if you use your own spices.
Go a step further by ditching the salty seasoning blends and trying your own combo of paprika, curry and ginger for a flavor punch. Knott recommends using herb and spice blends, vinegar and citrus juice and zest for extra flavors without adding salt.
- McCormick Paprika ($13.02 per bottle on Amazon.com)
- McCormick Curry Powder ($3.98 per bottle on Amazon.com)
- Simply Organic Ginger Root ($5.49 per bottle on Amazon.com)
And when you use spices instead of salt, Rolwood says, you're getting a two-in-one health benefit because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in some spices.
6. Savory Snacks
If you're craving something salty, you're likely to reach for one of these sodium bombs: chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes and crackers. One of the worst sodium culprits in the snack category is movie theater popcorn.
A small bag can boast 550 milligrams of sodium while a medium or large bag can have 980 milligrams — over 40 percent of your DV — according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Make your own popcorn and add your own seasonings, like black pepper and nutritional yeast (which tastes just like cheese!). If you need to satisfy a salt craving, use sea salt. While sea salt doesn't contain less sodium than regular salt, the larger crystals make it easier to use less than you otherwise would, Rolwood says. Plus, it sounds fancy, doesn't it?
The more processed your cheese is, the more sodium it can contain. A single slice of Kraft American Singles contains a whopping 220 milligrams — 10 percent of your DV — and you likely won't eat just one slice.
Rolwood recommends buying a block of cheese versus processed or shredded cheese. Sodium is often used as a preservative and for anti-caking in processed and shredded cheeses, she says.
On their own, eggs aren't very high in sodium — one egg packs in about 70 milligrams of naturally occurring sodium. But when you start adding cheese, salt and bacon to your scrambled eggs and omelets, sodium levels spike pretty quickly.
Opt for a lower-salt cheese and try seasoning with herbs, spices and nutritional yeast instead.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet"
- American Heart Association: "The Salty Six Infographic"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "BIG: Movie Theaters Fill Buckets…and Bellies"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Where's the Sodium?"
- Harvard Medical School: "Trending Now: Sprouted Grains"
- American Heart Association: "A Closer Look at the Salty Six"