Salt — like its other white, grainy friend sugar — is in just about everything. Contrary to what many 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.
Are You Eating Too Much Salt?
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, plus some.
While most adults could benefit from cutting back on salt, there are five groups that should limit their sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day, per the CDC:
- People with chronic kidney disease
- People with high blood pressure
- People with diabetes
- Adults over age 51
- Black people
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 less than 100 milligrams per slice, such as:
Frozen pizza, while convenient, is often extremely high in sodium. Just one serving — that's one slice! — of DiGiorno Rising Crust Pepperoni Pizza has 760 milligrams or 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 Amy's Veggie Crust Pizza, which offers 20 percent of your salt DV per serving, plus a handful of tasty veggies.
Or opt for making your own pizza with extra veggies for added fiber with these 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.
Just 2 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 (2 percent DV) 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. One single 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. And try these lower-sodium canned soups:
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.
Try these delicious spices:
And when you use spices instead of salt, you're getting a two-in-one health benefit because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in some spices, Rolwood says.
6. Savory Snacks
If you're craving something salty, you're likely to reach for one of these sodium-rich snacks: 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?
Try these options next time your snack cravings hit:
The more processed your cheese is, the more sodium it can contain. A single slice of Kraft American Singles contains 220 milligrams — 9 percent of your DV — and you likely won't eat just one slice.
Rolwood recommends buying a block of natural cheese versus processed or shredded cheese. Sodium is often used as a preservative and for anti-caking in processed and shredded cheeses, she says.
Try these healthy cheeses:
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.