The hidden salt in food
It’s no secret that packaged foods contain a lot of salt. We understand that salty snacks like chips and pretzels are high in sodium, but how many of us know where to look for hidden salt in our everyday food? Foods we believe to be “good” for us may actually have an enormous amount of hidden sodium.
Where we get our daily dose of sodium:
5% is added while we cook
6% is added at the table
12% occurs naturally in food
77% comes from processed and prepared foods
(Manufacturers add salt during processing.)
77% – that estimate is staggering! What does this mean to you? Simply put, it means we all should be reading food labels to check for sodium content.
To emphasize the need to read those labels carefully, here are 5 surprising places salt shows up:
- Cake Mixes
- Breakfast Cereal
- Cottage Cheese
Chicken – Did you know that chicken is often “plumped up” or “enhanced” before it is placed in the meat section of the grocery store? The “enhancement” process includes injecting the meat with water, salt and other additives in an effort to help the finished product remain juicy and more flavorful. While the packaging may state in the fine print that the product is enhanced, it may not alert you to what is in the “enhanced broth” and in what quantities because the meat processors are not required to put this information on the package. Opt for chicken that is not enhanced and add flavor with salt-free spice combinations.
Cake Mix – Sodium shows up in some very unexpected places. Who would think that just a single slice of German chocolate cake made from a prepared mix can be loaded with a remarkable 362 milligrams of sodium? A better option is to bake your chocolate cake from scratch, so you control the amount of salt in the recipe.
Bread – A medium slice of French bread or sourdough bread (64 grams) has as much as 328 milligrams of sodium. Worse yet, a medium plain bagel (about 4″ diameter) has as much as 501 mg of sodium. Lower sodium options are out there on store shelves, you just have to look. Or you could simply bake your own.
Breakfast Cereal – And to think, all these years we thought cereal’s biggest health pitfall was an overabundance of sugar. Who knew that a single serving of breakfast cereal could have a range of approximately 170 to 280 mg of sodium? A certain breakfast cereal that is promoted as “heart healthy” has a whopping 213 mg per 1 cup serving. The good news is that there are options out there with a lot less sodium. Try some delicious oatmeal with 0 mg of sodium and add fresh fruit for a healthy start to your day.
Cottage Cheese – This simple and versatile dairy delight is a protein powerhouse, but sadly, it is also a virtual salt bomb with upwards of 411 mg per 4 ounce serving. The “no sodium added” variety boasts a sodium content of only 15 mg per 4 ounce serving.
The lowdown on sodium
How much sodium is too much? Well, Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we have a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams (mg). People over the age of 51 are advised to further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day. People of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should also aim for maintaining a daily sodium intake level under 1,500 mg. We were surprised to learn that this 1500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
Debunking the sea salt myth
Recently there has been a rise in the popularity of sea salt in the culinary world. Unfortunately, along with the popularity has come a myth that sea salt is somehow lower in sodium than table salt. The reality is that both sea salt and table salt contain about 40 percent sodium content. Sea salt however, has a stronger taste and a coarser texture than “table salt” so you may use a bit less to get the same flavor enhancement. The “better for you” myth probably arose from the fact that sea salt is not processed like table salt and therefore it maintains trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium.
The bottom line is that we need to make ourselves aware of just how much hidden sodium is sneaking into our daily diets. An abundance of sodium may increase blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. So, read those labels carefully and when you can, prepare meals and snacks at home using fresh ingredients.