A List of Foods That Are Hidden Sources of Salt. You May Be Surprised.

Salt, which is 40% sodium and 60% chloride, is an essential nutrient that we need to survive. The problem is, too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure, strokes and kidney disease. Right now the recommendation is that we only need 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day or no more than 1500 milligrams if you:

  • Are over 50
  • Are African-American
  • Have  high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. 

Here’s what 2300 milligrams looks like.

Spoonful of salt

One teaspoon of salt contains at least 2300 milligrams of sodium

Keeping track of how much salt you’re taking in can be tricky because it’s often hidden in foods. You might think that an obvious way to reduce sodium is to stop using the salt shaker so much. Trouble is, foods that you may think are ok could be loaded with sodium. Kay Mullin, a registered dietitian with Maine Medical Partner’s Kidney Stone Prevention Program, says she was recently counseling a patient who thought he was doing a great job of cutting back on high salt foods. Instead, his sodium levels remained high. After some detective work, Kay found the culprit — chicken broth. “He was eating 7 to 9 ounces regularly and it was 330 milligrams per serving,” she says, “so he was getting nearly 1000 milligrams of sodium.”

Here’s are some other high-sodium culprits that you may not know about.

Where sodium hides

1. Bread and rolls. One slice of bread may have more than 200 milligrams of sodium.

Sliced bread in a basket
2. Cold cuts and cured meats. 
Deli or pre-packaged turkey can contain as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium. Two slices of salami — more than 300.

Plate of cold cuts

3. Canned Soup. Some cans of chicken noodle soup contain 940 milligrams of sodium

Chicken noodle soup

4. Canned or pickled foods, including vegetables. Often loaded with salt and preservatives.

Mix of cooked vegetables

5. Spaghetti Sauce.  One-half a cup of spaghetti sauce may contain more than 500 milligrams of sodium.

Plate of spaghetti and sauce

6. Frozen Dinners. Often loaded with sodium.

Frozen TV Dinner

7. Poultry and pork. When purchased in the store, often injected with a sodium solution.

Raw chicken

8. Pizza. One slice can contain up to 760 milligrams of sodium.

Pizza on a plate

9. Breakfast cereal. Some brands of raisin bran have up to 250 milligrams of sodium per cup.

Bowl of breakfast cereal

10. Soda. Including diet soda.

Glass of soda

About 80 percent of the sodium in American diets comes from processed and packaged foods. Even if you don’t taste it, the salt is there and even if you think you’re making a healthy choice because it says low-fat, it can be high in sodium. If you really want to lower how much you’re getting, you need to read labels carefully. Look for foods that say sodium-free or very low sodium. Here’s a simple chart to help you understand the terms.

Sodium content on food labels 

If it says It means
Sodium free Less than 5 mg  per serving
Very low sod 35 mg or less per serving
Low sodium Less than 140 mg per serving
Reduced or less sodium At least 25% less sodium than regular product

Something to remember is that the amount of sodium listed on the label is per serving size. Just what is a serving size? It depends — but that’s a whole other blog post, which I will do in the near future.  Also, in another upcoming post I’ll write about sodium and its link to kidney stones and how the right diet can help prevent stones. I recently interviewed Dr. Eric Taylor, who is the medical director of the Maine Medical Partners Kidney Stone Prevention Program, and Kay Mullin, the dietitian.

Finally, if you know of other high sodium foods that should be included on the list, please let us know by sending a comment. Thank you!

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.