13 Foods with Way More Salt than You Realized
What do instant oatmeal, cookies and canned veggies have in common? They are all foods high in sodium—and you probably didn't know they were.
Cottage cheese with fruit is an old lunchtime favorite, packed with protein and calcium. But if you’re aiming to lower your sodium, you might want to skip these creamy curds, as they’re actually foods high in sodium. Cottage cheese has at least 400 mg of sodium per half cup. For a tasty substitute, try Greek yogurt. You’ll get more protein, calcium, vitamin D, and as a bonus, some good-for-your-gut probiotics. Most Greek yogurts weigh in at only 70 mg of sodium per half cup.
Instant oatmeal is a popular option for the morning rush, especially in winter. Just add hot water and you have a warm and nutritious bowl of goodness, right? Not necessarily, says Paul Salter, MS, RD, nutrition editor for bodybuilding.com. “Take charge of your sodium intake and spend an extra couple of minutes each morning with a serving of old-fashioned oats rather than relying on instant oatmeal,” Salter says. Instant oatmeal packs in as much as 200 mg per serving compared to zero sodium in plain oats. If plain oatmeal sounds blah, try topping it with berries, Greek yogurt, and cinnamon.
Even after a heavy-duty sweat session at the gym, you probably don’t need a sports drink to replace your sodium stores. “Those beverages are created for athletes training at a high level for an extended period,” says Alysha Coughler, RD, of buildmybodybeautiful.com. Water, coconut water, or maple water will quench your thirst and keep you within your daily sodium budget.
A vegetarian or vegan diet is known for being exceptionally healthy, so you may be shocked to learn that a veggie burger could be a high-sodium food. “Many meat substitutes are as high, or higher in salt than the regular stuff, to improve the flavor and texture,” Coughler says.
When satisfying a sweet tooth, you’re probably more worried about sugar than salt. “But just because a product is sweet doesn’t mean it’s not high in sodium,” Coughler says. Besides the packaged baked goods we may toss in our shopping cart, Coughler cautions us to watch for sneaky high-sodium sources, such as “healthy” versions of cookies and brownies.
When canned goods are on sale at your supermarket, it’s tempting to stock up on canned veggies and beans, but that may not be the best strategy—they’re actually foods high in sodium. “Buying these items fresh or frozen without added salt is a better option,” says Asvini Mashru, RD, of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “But if you want to stick to cans, look for ‘no salt added’ or ‘reduced-sodium’ varieties.” If full-salt is your only option, drain and rinse the veggies or beans thoroughly with cold water before eating or cooking them. With a can of Blue Lake Whole Green Beans, for example, draining and rinsing will save you 200 mg of sodium.
We cube it, slice it, shred it, melt it, and sprinkle it on a variety of foods…because what’s not to love about cheese? But alas, salt is a basic ingredient in cheese. It keeps bacteria in check, controls moisture, acts as a preservative, and improves texture and taste. Some varieties are saltier than others. For example, a one-ounce serving of feta has 312 mg of sodium, whereas blue cheese has 391 mg per ounce, and pasteurized processed cheese has a whopping 428 mg per ounce. You can certainly opt for lower-sodium cheese or look for soft cheeses, which generally have lower sodium than hard cheeses. When you cook with cheese, spare the salt shaker, because cheese is a salty enough ingredient on its own.
Deli meat may be a staple in the American sandwich, but it’s a veritable salt bomb. “Despite being a convenient source of protein, deli meat can rack up to 700 mg of sodium per serving,” Coughler says. Seek out lower-salt alternatives or use leftover roasted chicken, canned tuna, or boiled eggs for your sandwich. You could also use less meat and make up the difference in veggies for a fiber-filling lunch that will see you through till dinner.
Most fans of breakfast cereal know to be concerned about sugar content, especially if you have kids. “Little do we realize how much salt is lurking in seemingly healthy cereal options,” Coughler says. We’re often misled by terms like “natural,” “whole grains,” or “fiber-rich,” so we neglect to check the label for sodium. But Post Grape-Nuts, for example, has 270 mg sodium per half cup. A cup of General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 240 mg of sodium per cup. The numbers seems small in relation to our 1,500 mg daily suggested maximum, but most of us double or triple the serving size listed on the box, so we’re likely to eat a third of our daily sodium allowance by 9 a.m.
Typical pasta sauce ingredients—tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and spices—seem pretty healthy, but most store-bought varieties can put a big dent in your sodium budget. Ragu Original, for example, has 470 mg per half cup. By the time you add another heaping scoop as a dip for your salty breadstick, you’re easily scarfing a high-sodium feast. Look for lower sodium varieties such as Trader Joe’s Organic Marinara Sauce, with just 25 mg of sodium in a half cup. You can always sprinkle in some Italian seasoning mix and you won’t miss the salt.
Yeast, flour, sugar, oil, and a bit of salt is what your grandmother’s homemade bread calls for, but when you go store-bought, you can double, triple, or even quadruple the salt. “Some breads have upwards of 325 mg of sodium per slice,” says Bobby Maknoon, RD, of Bobby Maknoon Consulting in Astoria, New York. Even if the numbers are lower on the nutrition label, be mindful of the serving size. “Most folks eat two slices of bread at a time, but manufacturers often list the serving size as one slice,” Maknoon says.
Sugar and fat often get the blame for salad dressing’s bad reputation while salt sneaks by, but many dressings definitely qualify as foods high in sodium. “Some salad dressings have more than 200 mg of sodium per serving, which is usually just two tablespoons,” says Maknoon. Beware of “low-fat” and “light” varieties, as they usually have extra sodium to compensate for the lower fat content. Since sodium is used to preserve the salad dressings we buy at the store, you can make your own lower salt version at home: Maknoon suggests mixing a tablespoon each of olive oil, vinegar, or citrus juice; add your favorite fresh or dried herbs and finely chopped garlic or shallots. Make sure you’re not making these 10 salad mistakes that cause you to gain weight.
Getting toasted shouldn’t be your only concern when whipping up a pitcher of Bloody Mary drinks for your next brunch. According to Ori Geshury, co-founder of the Aqua Vitae Institute, one Bloody Mary cocktail has 650 mg of sodium. You can make your own lower-sodium cocktails at home. Here are some cocktail recipes you can make yourself.