The mention of the word "sodium" can cause a fair bit of fear, but it’s something we actually have to consume. "We do need to have some sodium in our diets. It’s important for helping to control our hydration levels as we tend to lose it through sweat," Simone Austin, accredited practicing dietitian and spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told the HuffPost. However, while our bodies are equipped to regulate sodium, it’s all too easy to tip the balance slightly. "Our bodies carefully keep the salt level in our blood at a certain concentration, but when we start to have too much it becomes an issue," confirmed Austin.
And with 90% of Americans eating too much sodium, according to the CDC, it’s clear how easy it is to get too much of it. As long-term high sodium intake can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, identifying where we might be getting too much is vital — and some foods might surprise you in how much sodium they can actually contain. Let’s take a look at some unexpected culprits.
High amounts of sodium can lurk in canned vegetables
Canned vegetables can be a great way to get your five a day if you don’t have access to healthy sources, but it can come at a cost. A ½ cup serving of canned asparagus, for example, can contain a pretty hefty 346 milligrams of sodium, according to Healthline. With the recommended upper intake of sodium for adults at 2,300 milligrams per day, per the FDA, that’s around 15% of your advised sodium allowance, coming in a food that is meant to be nutritious.
Luckily, if you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake from canned vegetables, giving them a quick rinse with water before eating them can help to reduce the sodium levels by anywhere from 9% to 23%. Alternatively, look for other sources of vegetables to keep your diet healthy. "Buying these items fresh or frozen without added salt is a better option," Ashvini Mashru, registered dietitian of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern, Pennsylvania, told The Healthy. "But if you want to stick to cans, look for ‘no salt added’ or ‘reduced-sodium’ varieties."
It’s not just sugar you have to watch out for in breakfast cereal
Breakfast cereal gets a lot of heat for being too high in sugar, but it’s important to keep an eye on the sodium levels too, Dr. Daphne Miller, family physician and author of "The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home" told Shape. What’s more, the sodium levels in cereal can vary enormously. On one end of the scale, Shredded Wheat is a great option for those looking to lower their intake as it doesn’t contain any sodium. On the other hand, Grape Nuts pack a serious sodium punch, with a whopping 580 milligrams per cup.
Other cereals, like Wheat Chex, can deliver 357 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving, whereas simple puffed wheat has just 1 milligram of sodium for the same size serving, according to the National Kidney Foundation. When you’re shopping for cereal, keep an eye on the labels and shop smart, as Rachel Beller, registered dietitian and president of the Beller Nutritional Institute, suggests. Ideally, a cereal will contain less than 220 milligrams per serving (via Shape).
Just one slice of bread could have more sodium than you realize
If bread didn’t already get enough of a bad rap, it’s about to get a little worse. Some types of bread can be frustratingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, high in sodium. This tends to be more of a problem with packaged or pre-sliced bread. This is because in addition to it needing some salt for flavor and to help with the natural fermentation process that helps bread rise, off-the-shelf supermarket bread can often contain additives to preserve them which contain sodium (via San Francisco Chronicle). This can lead to a surprising amount of sodium per serving, with some bread delivering 172 milligrams per slice (so double that for a sandwich), around 12% of the daily recommended allowance.
To keep your sodium levels in check, it’s worth keeping an eye out for low-sodium brands. Alternatively, it might be time to unleash the amateur baker within and make your own easy, no-salt loaf! Baking low-sodium bread is pretty similar to making the regular kind and can leave you with a healthy loaf. Check out this recipe from Healthy Food and give it a go.
Low-cal salad dressing often substitutes lost flavor with sodium
If you’re opting for a salad to keep things healthy, the last thing you want is to unintentionally make it less nutritious. Unfortunately, this can be easily done by using a salad dressing that’s high in sodium, and they’re more common than you think. "Some salad dressings have more than 200 mg of sodium per serving, which is usually just two tablespoons," Bobby Maknoon, a registered dietitian in New York, told The Healthy. Salad dressings that are marketed as "low fat" or "light" can often be the biggest culprits of these, as manufacturers will add more sodium to supplement the flavor lost by removing the fat.
Keeping an eye out for low-sodium options when you shop for salad dressing can be a good idea. Varieties like Primal Kitchen’s Lemon Turmeric Vinaigrette or Bragg Vinaigrette can be an excellent choice to keep sodium down while still packing in flavor, according to Men’s Journal. Alternatively, rustling up your own dressing by mixing equal amounts of olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice is an easy way to augment your salad while controlling exactly how much sodium you have in it.
Some varieties of canned soup contain over a third of your daily intake
It may be quick and convenient, but canned soup is a repeat offender when it comes to sodium levels. Some varieties of canned soup can contain 830 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving, according to the American Heart Association, over a third of your recommended daily intake.
But on average, you’re looking at around 600 to 700 milligrams, as Eat This, Not That pointed out. The high sodium levels are normally due to a combination of making the soup taste good and extending its shelf life. Try to seek out low-sodium options if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake low: perhaps due to canned soup’s reputation as a salt-bomb, many brands now offer low-sodium options, with the site providing a helpful list of their top picks. It can also help to keep an eye on what percentage of your daily sodium intake you’re getting with soup. "If a client who is restricting sodium chooses a canned soup that contains less than 20 percent of the FDA’s 2,300-milligram sodium limit, I am happy with that," said registered dietitian nutritionist Brittany Scanniello.
Store-bought veggie burgers are full of sodium
More and more people are making the switch to vegetarian options from processed meat due to health concerns, but the swap might have consequences on your sodium intake. While generally lower in fat than their meaty cousins and full of vitamins, store-bought veggie burgers can be unexpectedly high in sodium, according to Verywell Fit. An Impossible Burger, for example, contains 370 milligrams of sodium, over 15% of your recommended daily intake.
It’s important to remember that while veggie burgers and meat-free alternatives can be great choices for those looking to cut down on meat for various reasons, they’re often still highly processed foods, with sodium added to enhance flavor and preserve. Smart shopping may be the answer to this. "There are many ways to reduce the salt intake in your diet, but with more than 75 percent coming from processed foods, the most powerful way is to make a few changes when you’re at the supermarket," Diana Heggie, CEO of Heart Foundation Victoria in Australia, told HuffPost. Alternatively, rustling up some veggie burgers at home is easily done and can save on sodium.
Packaged cakes and desserts can have surprisingly high levels of sodium
We all like a sweet treat now and again. And, of course, it’s common knowledge that packaged cakes and desserts contain a lot of sugar. These products, however, can often unexpectedly pack a big punch of sodium. "Manufacturers add a lot of sodium is to preserve these desserts," Maggie Michalczyk, Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, told Eat This, Not That. The amount of sodium can range from 210 to 310 milligrams per serving in some cases — a pretty sizeable amount for something sweet.
Not only that but these dessert products can often be impactful on your diet in other areas. "Along with sodium, most packaged desserts are also packed with sugar and even hydrogenated oils," confirmed Michalczyk. Keep an eye on the label when you go for these types of products, or try and seek out versions that are lower in sodium, sugar, and fat. As Michalczyk revealed, "Many new brands are emerging with better-for-you treat options!"
Cottage cheese could be the ideal snack if it weren’t so high in sodium
On the surface, cottage cheese is kind of the ideal snack. "It has all the elements that people are looking for in a food today — high in protein, low in sugar and carbs. It’s even perfect for keto followers," New York-based dietitian Regina Ragone told Prevention. As a dairy product, cottage cheese is also an excellent source of calcium, as well as being high in selenium, vitamin B12, and riboflavin, making it a seemingly nutritious choice (via Healthline).
So what’s the catch? According to Healthline, a ½ cup serving of cottage cheese can amount to 15% of your daily recommended intake for sodium as it contains 350 milligrams. It can be tricky to find low-sodium cottage cheese due to the ingredient contributing not only to flavor and preservation but also to the snack’s texture. If you’re struggling to find reductions, rinsing your cottage cheese in water for several minutes has been found to reduce its sodium levels by 63%, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the rinsing also halved its calcium content.
Deli meat’s sodium levels can be through the roof
"Despite being a convenient source of protein, deli meat can rack up to 700 mg of sodium per serving," Alysha Coughler, a registered dietitian and personal trainer with Cardio-Go in Toronto, Canada, told The Healthy. Just three slices of deli turkey breast can contain an enormous 1,050 milligrams of sodium, as Men’s Journal pointed out. And when you consider that you might be pairing this with bread, which can be a source of sodium in itself, you could be getting over half of your daily intake in one go.
If you’re eating deli meat for a protein source, try to seek out low-sodium options like leftover roast chicken or boiled eggs. What you pair your deli meat with can also have a big effect. Instead of putting your deli meat between two slices of bread, combine it with a salad with spinach or kale, both high in potassium, as Dr. Martha Gulati, director of preventive cardiology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, suggested (via Men’s Journal). A diet rich in potassium can help our bodies process sodium faster and keep our blood pressure balanced, according to the American Heart Association.
You might think it’s pure health, but vegetable juice is high in sodium
You might think of 100% vegetable juice as one of the healthiest things you can drink. However, the amount of sodium in store-bought vegetable juice is startlingly high. Despite being an excellent source of vitamins, a single serving of V8 contains a sizeable 640 milligrams of sodium, according to Healthline. The good news is that V8’s low-sodium version is far lighter on the sodium front, with just 140 milligrams in an 8-ounce serving.
V8 isn’t even the worst offender here, though. Campbell’s 100% tomato juice delivers an astounding 980 milligrams of sodium per serving (per Healthline), well over 40% of the daily value of 2,300 milligrams for an adult. As such, try as much as possible to drink vegetable juice in moderation, as Medical News Today suggests. And, if you want the benefits of vegetable juice with fewer downsides like high sodium content, make your own at home. It couldn’t be simpler; just throw any veggies you have lying around into a blender or juicer, hit go, and enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor!
Fermented food like sauerkraut and kimchi can be secretly sodium-heavy
With their encouragement of a healthy microbiome and ability to help digestion, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can be a great way to show our guts a little love (via Cleveland Clinic). Unfortunately, these foods need a fair amount of salt for the fermentation process, meaning that the end products can be pretty high in sodium. A single cup of sauerkraut, for example, could set you back 939 milligrams of sodium on average (depending on the brand you choose), according to Prevention. Similarly, a single cup of kimchi will contain around 747 milligrams of sodium on average, per Healthline.
As both foods are typically served alongside larger meals, you might not be eating a full cup at a time, but you should still keep an eye on how much sodium you’re consuming per day. Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Ethnic Foods found that eating kimchi did not seem to link with the prevalence of hypertension, potentially due to the high potassium content in the food counteracting the sodium levels.
Keep your condiment servings small to keep your sodium low
Those little dabs of ketchup or other condiments? They can add up. "Condiments such as barbecue sauce and steak sauce are often loaded with sodium, which is added as both a flavor enhancer and preservative," Malina Malkani, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Eat This, Not That. Just 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce can contain up to 300 milligrams of sodium, according to Verywell Fit. A single tablespoon of ketchup also scores pretty high on the sodium front, at 136 milligrams (via Verywell Fit).
Many manufacturers now make low-sodium versions of their products, so if you can’t bear the thought of a meal without a side sauce, it might be worth plumping for these. "It’s also helpful to reduce the amount of each condiment that you use in meals and snacks," said Malkani. A little can go a long way.
The brand of pasta sauce you choose could sneak huge amounts of sodium into your diet
With a standard base of tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, you might think that pasta sauce is pretty healthy and that the pasta (plus, if you’re like us, mountains of cheese) that you eat with it is the problem. If you’re buying jarred pasta sauce, though, make sure to check the sodium levels, as they can be very high.
"Sodium increases palatability; however, some pasta sauce brands contain up to 1,000 milligrams per cup," Malina Malkani, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, confirmed in an interview with Eat This, Not That.
Not only that, but some pasta sauces also contain surprisingly high levels of sugar, with some having more than a bowl of Froot Loops (via Eat This, Not That). If you’re trying to keep your pasta sauce as healthy as possible, consider making it yourself and freezing it in batches. There are also plenty of options out there that keep it low on sodium and other additives and give you plenty of the good stuff. As Malkani said, "It’s important to read labels before you buy."
Sodium can come in a sweet sources like fruit drinks
When it comes to fruit drinks, it might be the sugar content that you’re initially curious about. When you’re checking that, though, make sure to cast an eye over the sodium content too. Of particular note are powdered fruit drink mixes, which can contain a massive 682 milligrams of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving, according to Shape.
There are some situations where this high sodium content is useful; if, for example, you’re drinking these powder mixes to replace sodium. This is why you’ll often find that sports drinks or rehydration solutions have sodium and potassium added (via Healthline). If not, though, don’t be fooled by the sweetness of these drinks. They could knock your sodium levels out of balance.
To avoid this, always check labels before you buy. To get the maximum amount of goodness from fruit drinks, opt to make them yourself using a blender, as Martha Stewart shows. Or, consider subbing out your fruit drinks for something equally as invigorating, as Rachel Beller, registered dietitian and president of Beller Nutritional Institute, said, "Unsweetened iced tea is naturally refreshing — drink up!"