Sodium in Processed Foods: The Silent Killer?

It’s no secret that we have too much salt in our diet.  Although the body only requires about 180-500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, we typically ingest almost 4,000 mg.  Currently, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but this amount will be reduced to 1,500 mg by 2020.  More on that later…

Consider that just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium.  Even if you do not add salt to your foods, you would be bound to get more than the recommended amount.  This is because about 77 percent or more of the salt you take in comes from processed and prepared foods.

The main sources of sodium in the average U.S. diet.

Why should we care? 

Dietary sodium is positively associated with elevated blood pressure and hypertension, which is a “risk factor” for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, a “silent killer”.

The American Medical Association estimates that cutting the amount of salt in processed foods by half could save 150,000 lives in the United States each year.

In 2010, AHA recommended that the daily value for sodium be lowered to 1,500 mg by 2020 with an intermediate goal of 2,000 mg by 2013. This two-step phase would aim to provide manufacturers with time to reformulate products and identify acceptable salt substitutes; as well as, allow consumers to adapt their taste sensitivities to the lower sodium content in foods. 

With processed foods accounting for 77 percent of all sodium consumed, it will require the operation of food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the sodium content of the foods they make available to the public. AHA would like to see food manufacturers and restaurants reduce the salt added to foods by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

What can we do?

Here are six simple ways to keep your sodium intake at bay:

  1. Eat more fresh, unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium.
  2. Reduce the amount of sodium in canned foods by thoroughly draining and rinsing them.
  3. Go easy on high-sodium condiments like soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup; and use herbs, citrus, and salt-free spices like fresh garlic or garlic powder, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh ground pepper, tarragon and oregano, which offer good substitutes for salt and sodium.
  4. Downsize portions. The more calories in a meal, the more sodium in the meal.
  5. Take control when eating out at a restaurant.  Ask the chef to prepare your meal with less sodium or without any forms of sodium, and then add a dash of low-sodium seasoning that you brought from home.
  6. Read nutrition labels on foods to compare before you purchase.  Be aware of high sodium present in many processed foods such as the following:
Food Amount Sodium (mg)
Smoked salmon 2.5 oz 1428
Turkey, luncheon meat 75 g 900
Baked beans ¾ cup 800
Coffee shop raisin bran muffin 1 muffin 790
Spaghetti Sauce ½ cup 635
100% whole wheat bagel 1 bagel 540
Vegetable drink 1 cup 529
Cottage cheese ½ cup 485
Whole wheat English muffin 1 muffin 420
Beef hot dog 1 hot dog 412
Instant oatmeal ¾ cup 314
Cheddar Cheese 50 g 310