13 Foods That Are Saltier Than You Realize

04/24/2014 at 12:17 PM ET
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SURPRISINGLY SALTY FOODS

You already know snack foods like chips, crackers, and pretzels pack a lot of salt.

But even if you don’t eat those, you may be on a high-sodium diet without realizing it. Many foods you wouldn’t expect are swimming in salt, including bagels, cereals, and even cottage cheese, says LeeAnn Smith Weintraub, MPH, RD, a nutrition consultant in Culver City, Calif. Most people should stick to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (those with high blood pressureshould limit it 1,500 mg). Read on for 13 sneaky sources of salt to watch for.

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SAUCES

It’s no surprise that marinades and salad dressings contain salt, since they taste salty. But it may shock you just how much they have. A two-tablespoon serving of salad dressing or barbecue sauce may pack 300 mg of sodium (10 to 15% of your day’s quota)—and you often use two servings or more on your food. Same with marinades, which can pack nearly a fifth of your limit in just one tablespoon, which isn’t even enough to cover one chicken breast. Control sodium by making these marinade recipes and salad dressing recipes at home.

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COTTAGE CHEESE

Cottage cheese is a good source ofcalcium and protein. Low-fat cottage cheese packs a whopping 28 grams of protein for only 160 calories. The catch: a one-cup serving can contain almost 1,000 mg of sodium—about 40% of what you’re supposed to have in an entire day. Look for no-salt-added cottage cheese. Greek yogurt, which contains just 60 mg of sodium per serving, is a worthy high-protein substitute.

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CEREAL

Cereal can be healthy way to start your day—or a salty one. Many cereals have 180 to 300 mg of sodium per serving—up to 12% of what you should consume in a whole day—and that’s if you only pour one serving in your bowl. Better bet: stick with plain oatmeal topped with fruit, or one of these 20 super-healthy breakfast foods.

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BAGELS

Bread is a major source of salt in the American diet, according to the CDC. And bagels are just like supersized servings of bread, which is why one bagel can contain 460 mg of sodium, or 19% of what you should get daily. That’s for a plain bagel—flavors like asiago cheese or everything add even more, and so does adding a smear of cream cheese (100 mg for two tablespoons). When struck with a bagel craving, opt for a bagel thin to cut sodium by 50%.

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BAKED GOODS

You know that packaged cakes and doughnuts are packed with sugar and carbs, but they’re also salty. One Entenmann’s crumb doughnut, for example, supplies you with over 200 mg of sodium (about 10% of your day’s limit). Packaged baked goods rely on sodium as a preservative in addition to any salt used during baking. These treats already have a lot of negative things going for them (lots of calories, fat, and sometimes trans fat), so try one of these healthier cookie recipes at home.

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SOUP

A bowl of hot soup makes a filling, healthy lunch. What’s shocking is just how much salt most soups contain, especially the canned soups on supermarket shelves. Though a bowl might be less than 300 calories, a serving can contain half of your sodium limit for the day. 

When it comes to canned soup, buy low-salt versions whenever possible. After years of eating super-salty soup, you may think it tastes bland, warns Weintraub. Dress it up with freshly cracked pepper, fresh herbs, or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. You can also add a few shakes of salt yourself—you’ll never add more than food companies would. Or you can cook up one of these healthy soup recipes.

Salty Foods
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When you see “reduced sodium” on a food label, you may think you’re being served up a lot less salt. However, this FDA-regulated term means that a food has only 25% less sodium than the original product. So for a frozen meal that contains 1,000 mg of sodium, the reduced-sodium version would have 750 mg—still high. Reduced-sodium options can be a smart choice if you’re slowly trying to cut back on salt, but if you’re watching your sodium closely, better labels to look for are “low sodium” (with 140 mg of sodium or less per serving) and “very low sodium” (35 mg of sodium or less).

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VEGGIE BURGERS

When you see “reduced sodium” on a food label, you may think you’re being served up a lot less salt. However, this FDA-regulated term means that a food has only 25% less sodium than the original product. So for a frozen meal that contains 1,000 mg of sodium, the reduced-sodium version would have 750 mg—still high. Reduced-sodium options can be a smart choice if you’re slowly trying to cut back on salt, but if you’re watching your sodium closely, better labels to look for are “low sodium” (with 140 mg of sodium or less per serving) and “very low sodium” (35 mg of sodium or less).

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PANCAKES

You want a sweet brunch, so what’s 2,000 mg of sodium doing in your stack of chocolate chip pancakes? Making pancakes at home is a better option than ordering them at a diner, but ready-made mixes (with 400 mg of sodium per serving) and pourable mixes (700 mg for three pancakes) can still serve up a lot of salt.

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HOT CHOCOLATE

The warming drink is a great way to get your chocolate fix for few calories—there are just 80 to 100 in a packet of mix. But one serving can also contain 7% of your recommended daily intake of sodium. If you’re on a reduced-sodium diet for any reason, then one packet will be over 10% of your quota. Try this lower-sodium recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate.

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FROZEN VEGGIES IN SAUCE

Per cup, pre-sauced frozen vegetable mixes can add nearly 500 mg of sodium to your meal, particularly if you choose cheesy sauces. Skip these and go for plain frozen vegetables, like bags of peas, onions, corn, and spinach. Frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh, and often more so. Freezing produce shortly after harvest preserves nutrients, whereas fresh produce often loses some nutrients during shipping and storage.

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SANDWICHES

After counting sodium in bread, deli meat, cheese, and pickles, an innocent-sounding turkey sub sandwich adds up to about 900 mg of sodium. Make a sammie at home to save salt, suggests Weintraub. Use lower-sodium options like pita bread, whole grain mustard instead of pickles, fresh veggies, Swiss cheese (it contains a fraction of the sodium of provolone), and low-sodium deli turkey or—better yet—pieces of freshly carved turkey.

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CHICKEN BREASTS

Raw chicken breasts harbor a secret: they’re often injected with a high-sodium flavoring solution to perk up the taste. To avoid it, buy chicken with the words “non-enhanced” on the label, avoid brands that list salt on the ingredients label, or go for an organic variety. Weintraub likes a brand called Smart Chicken.

—Jessica Girdwain

Health.com

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FILED UNDER: Expert Tips , Health

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Showing 2 comments

Radhika on

Very insightful! I said “oops” a lot..! I had no clue some these foods had salt at all. Thanks for sharing.

ummmm...durrr on

if we’re careful, these mostly aren’t terrible for you. a little bit alarmist.

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