15 Sneaky Sodium Foods that Sabotage Your Healthy Diet

Hello again!  This is Christine here with a different kind of Sweet-Tooth Friday post; in fact, it’s down-right salty!  Sodium made some controversial headlines recently, and as a healthy-eater I was shocked by how much my pantry was affected by the news.

No Deli-Meat, No Cheeto’s, No Problem?

Salt is an essential part of survival, and is extra important for distance runners.  The recommended amount is only about a teaspoon per day, or 2300 milligrams.  Most people eat at least twice that much!

The sneaky part is, only a small amount of this comes from actually using the shaker in the table.  Seventy-five percent of salt intake comes from processed foods.

Two weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report that recommends the FDA to regulate the amount of salt allowed in processed foods.  They believe this will prevent over 100,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

“Phew, I hardly eat any processed foods.  I’m in the clear, right?”

Though I’m torn on the idea of there being a legal limit on salt, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the sodium issue wouldn’t really affect me.  After all, I cook the majority of my meals at home.

But as I dug into my pantry and freezer, and took the time to look up the nutrition facts for my favorite take-out, I was hit with the salty reality.

Sodium fills my kitchen just like everybody else’s, even if disguised under my favorite natural brand names and organic labels.  Anything below 5% of the daily value is considered low salt, and over 20% is considered high…but where does my snacking land?

Fifteen Sneaky Sodium Sources

Ingredients: A Salty Start

Sure, most of our dishes start with lots of fresh veggies, but what pulls it all together as a meal?

1. Kikkoman Less-Sodium Soy Sauce 575 mg sodium per 1 tbsp (24% DV)
Ouch, that’s for the reduced version too! I don’t think I could ever ditch the soy sauce, so try to use with a light hand and turn up the flavor with 5-spice and chilies instead.

2. Prego Traditional Italian Sauce 480 mg sodium per 1/2 cup (20% DV)
I choose Prego for the short, pronounceable ingredient list and reasonable price.  I’ve been so busy reading labels to avoid corn syrup, I never even thought about checking the sodium level.  The best solution is to do like my dad does, and make a big homemade batch and freeze in single serving portions.

3.  Swanson Organic Vegetable Broth 550 mg sodium per 1 cup (23% DV)

And that’s 1/3 less sodium than Swanson’s original version! Making your own broth is a lot cheaper, and you get to control the ingredients.

4. Canned beans 430 mg sodium per 1 cup (18% DV)

Some people say rinsing beans removes up to 40% of the sodium, others say they need to be soaked in hot water to remove about 30%.  Either way, it’s a lot more than dried beans.  Save some time by cooking up large batches and freezing in two-cup portions.

5. Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce 500 mg sodium per 2 tbsp (21% DV)
A lot of sauces and condiments are saltier than you’d think.  Load up your sandwich with more onions and other fresh fixins’ and layer on the heat with ground spices instead.

Snacks: Beyond carrots and celery

6. Grapenuts cereal 290 mg sodium per 1 cup (12% DV)
Instead of reading the back of the cereal box, take a gander at the nutrition facts next time!  Most are a sugary, salty mess.  Try Bear Naked All Natural Fruit and Nut Granola, for no sodium but lots of taste, or make my flax granola.

7. Nature’s Promise Organic Mac and Cheese 570 mg sodium per 1 cup prepared (24% DV)
Ah ha, I thought I was special by avoiding the dreaded blue box.  Still, powdered cheese sauce is…well, what is it exactly?  Drizzle whole-grain macaroni with olive oil, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of sea salt for a just-as-quick snack.

8. Blue Diamond Jalapeno Smokehouse Almonds 180 mg sodium per 1 oz (7% DV)
Remember, if it looks too good to be true, check the serving size!  I know I’m guilty of eating much more than an ounce at a time.  Get your tastebuds used to the joys of raw nuts, or grab some smoked paprika and season them yourself.

9. Newman O’s Salted Rounds 400 mg sodium per 8 small pretzels (17% DV)
Even my sacred Newman O’s aren’t safe from scrutiny!  When the munchies strike, try Nature’s Promise Organic Blue Corn Chips for only 60 mg of sodium per serving.

10. Kashi Frozen Veggie Chana Masala 690 mg sodium (29% DV)
At least that amount is for a whole meal instead of a snack!  Chana masala does in fact freeze wonderfully, so make your own large batch and freeze it yourself!  Also try Amy’s 290 mg Light Sodium Burritos.

Eating-out: The Healthiest Stuff on the Menu

There aren’t always a lot of meatless options at convenience restaurants; these five are my standards around town when I forget to pack my lunch.  If these numbers scare you, check out Matt’s post on vegetarian lunches for some better options.

11. Taco Bell Fresco Bean Burrito 1290 mg sodium (56% DV)
Gulp…don’t even think of washing this one down with a sodium-rich soda!

12. Einstein Bros. Bagels Veggie Deli Melt 1350 mg sodium (59% DV)
Ask for half the amount of cheese and extra greens.  And for gosh sakes, don’t order the salt bagel!

13. Baja Fresh Tostada Salad 1930 mg sodium (84% DV)
Nix the sour cream and cheese; the guacamole is plenty indulgent.  And don’t eat the bowl!

14.  Panera Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich 1450 mg sodium (63% DV)
PaneraNutrition.com has a cool feature that recalculates nutrition totals by checking and unchecking certain ingredients—for example, hold the feta and lose 180 mg sodium too.

15. Starbucks Farmer’s Market Salad 470 mg sodium (21% DV)
Though technically “high” in sodium, it’s still less than a tablespoon of soy sauce!  Use half the packet of dressing to lower the sodium even more.

Sodium haunts even the healthiest of diets.  The more convenience foods you can make at home and freeze yourself, the better.  When you buy packaged foods, look for sea salt as an ingredient instead of sodium benzoate and other forms of sodium used as a preservative.

So what do you think—would we all be a lot healthier if the government regulated sodium?  Are mandated jazzercize classes next?  No one will dare mess with the inherent saltiness of my pickles, olives, and capers…will they?

According to the Washington Post, one member of the Institute of Medicine Committee says “We can’t just rely on the individual to do something.  Food manufacturers have to reduce the amount of sodium in foods.”

On one hand I find that statement insulting, but on the other I know I am someone with the knowledge, means, and most of all time to prepare my own healthy foods.

Do you think regulation is a good idea? Is your sodium intake undermining your attempts at a healthy diet?

Until next time, stay sweet (not salty)!
xoxo, Christine



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  1. Yes tricky question! I think that consumers need to be much better at knowing what they are buying. It’s easy to blame the food manufacturers but really no one NEEDS to buy those products.

  2. I do think salt should be regulated, though being a runner with low blood pressure I actually need to take in an obscene amount of sodium. It’s just how my body works. But I’d rather get that from sea salt than packaged products
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Blurt =-.

    • Evan, I just realized I forgot to ask you about the gluten-free thing you wrote in a comment two posts ago. What sort of symptoms do you see that made you realize it doesn’t work for you? Does it affect your running? I’d like to know what to look for.

    • Garry Asmus says:

      Evan, Great Plan, very smart!!!

  3. Thanks for giving me insight on how sodium can be so easy to overconsume.

    As for whether there should be a legal limit, I’d also be concerned about the government overstepping. People can figure things out for themselves.

    But again, until this article, I had no idea how risky my diet was in terms of sodium intake. I thought that I didn’t have to worry about it.

    Now, would you object to FDA-required nutrition labels that warned you specifically if the percentage of your daily level of sodium was relatively high? I think I’d appreciate something for sodium along the idea of regulation in terms of indicating food as low-fat, less fat, reduced fat, etc. but for sodium intake.
    .-= GBGames´s last blog ..Encourage Creativity: Addicube =-.

    • I would be happier with labels than straight-up regulation. There are guidelines already in place for sodium labels: low sodium is 140mg or less, reduced sodium is 25% less sodium than original product, and light in sodium is 50% less than usual.

      I think it would be better if they all went by a certain mg standard instead of compared to the original product, and all packaged products above 20% DV were labeled as such.

      I meant to bring up potassium in my post; I saw on the FDA website (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm181577.htm) that getting 4700 mg/day recommended amount of potassium helps to blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

      Besides bananas, which contain about 1/10th of the daily recommended potatassium, there are also dried apricots, avocados, almonds, lentils, beans, squash, and spinach for a potassium punch.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. HOLY COW!!! That’s alot of sodium. Taco Bell is surprising, Panera too!

    I mostly eat at home and have controlled sodium and never eat junk food (not even frozen vegan meals!) but still, I’m sure even without the cheese and meat subbed with beans the Crunchwrap supreme isn’t a good choice.

  5. I hope the gov’t doesn’t regulate sodium… I have super low blood pressure like the above cemmentor and was told by my doctor to eat tons of sea salt as well! I would be amused by gov’t mandated jazzercise classes though. Might add a little pizzazz to my work day…
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..No more training plan! =-.

  6. I’m totally diggin the new header! (perhaps its the new shade of green I’m partial to..) 🙂 are the shirts going to reflect the new header?? (sorry if you already said that – it’s been a long week over here!) 😉

  7. My blood pressure is relatively low (I’m not sure what “very low” means according to those of you whose doctors have given the OK on salt) and I’ve never been told to eat more salt or anything of that matter. I do drink an awful lot of water and hardly eat anything processed; sometimes I fear I might not be getting enough sodium or flushing too much out. Anyone know how to tell?

    And I think that the food industry should make an attempt to slowly decrease the amount of sodium so that it doesn’t interfere with the taste consumers are looking for while at the same time finding the optimum balance between taste and health so that both parties can be in agreement.
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..A Change of Pace =-.

  8. i can’t believe a salad “Baja Fresh Tostada Salad” has so much sodium, that’s just insane.. i’m not sure about regulation, but i’m all for labels and for restaurants listing the calories on menus..

  9. The amount of sodium that the average person consumes is insane! Thanks for the great info!
    .-= William´s last blog .. =-.

  10. Love the new design!

    Thanks for the heads up on some of these items. I just had a half a Panera Mediterranean sandwich this week.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Anticipation =-.

  11. Great read…I definitely need to start considering my sodium intake more!!
    .-= Jillian (back to the nest)´s last blog ..Shape Up RI Half Marathon =-.

  12. Matt, great post. I just linked to it and reposted a portion. Hope you don’t mind.

    I spent two months researching the sodium content of all entrees at the 25 highest volume restaurant chains (results on my blog) and found that more than 3/4 of ALL entrees have more than one-third of your daily recommended sodium intake. In fact, half of all entrees contain more than 50% of DV. I come down on the side of regulation at some level, because sodium is contributing to the health care cost crisis that is crippling our economy. I get the “personal responsibility argument”, but there just aren’t even options to go low sodium at this point. If I’m determined to eat out low sodium, I’m looking at a smoothie or maybe fish at Red Lobster, and there’s not much more out there, currently. So whether it’s government or consumers, somebody is going to have to pressure restaurants to provide those truly healthy choices.

    • Alan, thanks for linking and posting a bit on your site. Definitely not a problem!

      I should redirect the credit to my sister, Christine, who writes all the Friday posts on No Meat Athlete. She usually posts recipes for healthy desserts, but she’s also interested in nutrition and especially the legal issues surrounding it.

      Good for you spending 2 months researching something for a blog. If everyone did research like that (or even a few days’ worth), blogs wouldn’t have the bad name they’ve acquired!

  13. That’s very true. What I’ve noticed is that even though people may be aware of the high sodium content in foods, they don’t necessarily know WHY it’s bad for them (in exaggeration). I’m not sure regulations should be the first step as much as raise awareness on the potential health dangers of a high-sodium diet. Great site!

  14. Salt really is everywhere! You don’t even realize it because you think you may be eating healthy, but it contains so much salt. I actually enjoy less salt, and am so glad the FDA is regulating that now. This was a great post!
    .-= Lauren @ Eat, Drink, and Be hopeful´s last blog ..WHAT A DAY Plus GIVEAWAY! =-.

  15. Hi, I’m new here! 🙂

    Salt is a consideration in my household because my husband has high blood pressure. I think it’s important even if you don’t have HBP…especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Why see the added water retention on the scale, you know?

    There are low salt versions of a lot of things, such as canned beans (Goya makes a premium version of some of their beans with less than 150 mg per serving), and broths.
    .-= Jenn @ Watch My Butt Shrink!´s last blog ..GRUVE Giveaway! =-.

  16. I keep trying to find out if Smoked Paprika has sodium and how much? I get answer surrounding that question but not an answer about Smoked Paprika. I never salt my foods but am sure I take in too much sodium anyway.
    My bp was 225/ 120 and after being so proud of no meds at 61 years old I now have to take bp medicine. I recently started using a lot of smoked paprika and wondered if this is the reason for the spike in BP. now my bp is 80/51 Thank You. Liz. Bp machine might have been inaccurate

  17. I am on a low salt diet, so I am aware of sodium content in processed foods. So for all out there who need more sodium add it to your food. I and many others can not eat things we liked because of the high sodium content. I m not a fast food eater and cook for myself. There are plenty of wonderful herbs and spices out there to season your food.

  18. jwoolman says:

    I track my food so I can see where the sodium is coming from. I’ve noticed that bread products introduce a huge amount even for me, and I usually don’t eat wheat or any kind of bread (gf or otherwise) at every meal or every day. I wonder if some people see less bloating when they cut out wheat because a major source of sodium is also eliminated.

    Plain fruit and veg have very little sodium, if they are filling up on that instead. Unsalted nuts and seeds and beans likewise. Cheese is salty, so eliminating dairy would also reduce salt considerably.

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