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Publication #FSHN10-06

Shopping for Health: Sodium1

Wendy Dahl and Lauren Foster2

Sodium is a mineral found in table salt. While sodium is necessary for the body to maintain fluid balance and blood volume, consuming excess sodium may lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease or stroke.

How much sodium do I need?

For optimum health, experts recommend that adults not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium, which is the equivalent of about one teaspoon of salt per day (1). Healthy young adults require 1,500 mg of sodium per day, while those over 70 years of age require only 1,200 mg per day. Most people consume far more sodium then they require.

Individuals with high blood pressure or other health conditions may be put on a sodium restriction by their doctors. Most low-sodium diets limit sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day (1).

What foods are high in sodium?

Processed foods

In the U.S., the main source of sodium in the diet is processed and prepared foods such as canned foods, luncheon meats and many frozen foods. Salt is often added in processing to preserve foods and add flavor (2). For example, one slice of a typical frozen pizza has about 900 mg of sodium. Boxed meals with pre-packaged flavorings are usually high in sodium as well—a single serving of Hamburger Helper® Cheeseburger Macaroni has 914 mg of sodium. Avoiding processed foods may greatly decrease your daily sodium intake.

High-sodium condiments

Condiments such as salad dressings or soy sauce may significantly increase the sodium content of foods. One tablespoon of soy sauce has about 1,000 mg of sodium (2), and one tablespoon of regular salad dressing has about 200 mg.

Shopping for lower-sodium foods

A low-sodium diet does not require you to cut out specific food groups, but it does require you to be a more conscious shopper. Different brands of the same food may have dramatically different sodium contents, so it is important to always read food labels. According to the FDA, low-sodium foods contain 140 mg or less of sodium per serving (3).

Vegetables

When buying vegetables, consider how they have been processed. Canned vegetables often contain high levels of sodium, added to enhance flavor and shelf life. Choosing fresh or frozen vegetables (without sauce) instead of canned will decrease your daily sodium intake, as long as you do not add salt at the table or during cooking. Table 1 lists various vegetables and their sodium contents based on how they have been processed (4).

Table 1. 

Sodium content of vegetables*

 

Sodium (mg per 1/2 cup serving)

Fresh

Frozen (no salt)

Canned

Canned (low or no sodium)

Asparagus

1

3

346

32

Carrots

42

43

295

42

Collards

4

43

490

240

Yellow Corn

11

3

286

15

Green Beans

3

58

311

17

Peas, Green

3

4

214

11

Spinach

12

92

373

88

*Adding sauces or high-sodium dressings when preparing vegetables can significantly affect the sodium content.

Bread

Although breads may not always taste 'salty,' they may be high in sodium. Table 2 lists different types of breads and the amount of sodium in each (4). Low-sodium alternatives to bread may be corn tortillas or unsalted crackers.

Table 2. 

Typical Sodium Content of Breads

Bread

Sodium (mg/slice)

Italian

117

Mixed Grain

109

Pita, white (4")

150

Pumpernickel

174

Raisin

81

Rye

211

White

128

Whole Wheat

132

Meat

As with vegetables, meats vary in sodium content depending on their preparation. Processed meats such as luncheon meats and smoked or cured meats are high in sodium. Table 3 compares the amounts of sodium in fresh meat roasts to those in processed luncheon meats (4).

Table 3. 

Sodium Contents of Roasted Meats and Luncheon Meats

 

Roast Meats

Sodium mg/serving

Luncheon Meats

Sodium

mg/serving

Chicken

43

705

Turkey

40

705

Beef

32

630

2 oz servings

The recommended serving size for most luncheon meats is 2 oz. However, many restaurant-style deli sandwiches provide about 5–6 oz of meat. One 2 oz serving of salami provides almost one third of the recommended daily amount for sodium. If you were to prepare a sandwich with two slices of white bread and 2 oz of luncheon meat, you would have already consumed nearly half of the Adequate Intake for sodium!

Cereal

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals vary greatly in their levels of sodium. While there are some low-sodium cereals available, most are high in added salt. Sodium contents range from under 10 mg per serving in shredded wheat to over 350 mg per serving in Kellogg's Raisin Bran. Some low-sodium cereals are shown in Table 4.

Table 4. 

Low Sodium Cereals (<140 mg)

Cereal

Sodium (mg/serving)

Puffed Rice, Puffed Wheat and Toasted Wheat Germ Cereals

0

Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats®

5

Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Original®

0

Quaker® 100% Natural Cereal with Oats, Honey & Raisins

127

Kellogg's Smacks®

51

Kellogg's All-Bran Original®

81

Quaker® Low-Fat Granola with Raisins

144

Kellogg's Corn Pops®

124

mg = milligrams

Cheese

Processed cheeses are generally high in salt, and should be limited in low-sodium diets. Some grocers carry low-sodium brands, but they may be difficult to find. The sodium contents of various cheeses are listed below in Table 5.

Table 5. 

Sodium contents of typical cheeses

Cheese

Sodium (mg/oz)

Parmesan

433

American

422

Blue

395

Swiss

54

Provolone

248

Mozzarella

178

Cheddar

176

Snacks

Many popular snack foods, such as chips and crackers, are high in added salt. Pretzels have about 500 mg of sodium per serving and a bowl of popcorn has about 350 mg. As with other food groups, some snacks may not taste 'salty' but still contain a lot of sodium. For example, one snack-size Jello® pudding cup has almost 200 mg of sodium.

To satisfy the need to munch without the extra salt, you might try raisins, dried fruit, or unsalted nuts as alternatives. Another option may be to look for brands that offer an unsalted version of their snacks. Frito- Lay offers a low sodium line of potato chips called Pinch of Salt® chips, and Snyder's of Hanover sells mini pretzels that are unsalted. Both of these options have only 75 mg of sodium per serving.

Be an informed shopper!

Always be sure to read food labels to check sodium contents. The amount of sodium per serving is usually listed in milligrams (mg) under the heading, Nutrition Facts. The percent daily value is also listed, which is based on a daily intake of 2,000 mg of sodium.

The next time you are grocery shopping, keep the following general guidelines in mind to limit sodium intake:

  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned.

  • Choose fresh or frozen meats rather than meats that have been smoked, cured, dried, or canned.

  • Purchase low-sodium salad dressings instead of regular dressings.

  • Choose reduced-sodium soups or prepare homemade soups.

  • Avoid pre-packaged biscuit and waffle mixes. Instead, choose low-sodium cereals or oatmeal.

  • Substitute dried or fresh herbs for high-sodium condiments.

  • Substitute unsalted crackers and corn tortillas for high-sodium snacks and breads.

References

1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.

2) Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2008. Sodium: Are you getting too much? Retrieved December 16, 2009 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284.

3) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2004. Appendix A: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims. In Guidance for industry: A food labeling guide (Appendix A). [22 March 2013] http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/default.htm

4) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2009. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN10-06, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 2011. Minor revision November 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, assistant professor; Lauren Foster, student; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS do not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.