How much salt are you really eating?
Americans consume too much sodium. It’s a fact. We need some sodium to keep our bodies working properly. But we don’t need nearly as much as most of us are getting. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500mg per day, with a max of 2300mg per day. And people with conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure should always limit their intake of sodium to 1500mg per day.
Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American over the age of two consumes 3436mg per day. That’s more than double what we need.
Consuming too much sodium can have long-term, harmful effects on your health. It contributes to high blood pressure and other dangerous conditions and diseases. Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Libertyville, Ill., recommends taking steps to limit the sodium in your family’s diet and watching what you feed your children because kids are at risk of the effects of excess sodium as well.
When most people think of consuming sodium, they think of adding salt to foods or eating salty snack foods like chips. But most of us are getting our excess sodium from processed foods, including those that are advertised as healthy options. Here are some examples:
- Cereal. One brand of raisin bran cereal has 350mg of sodium per cup. And since most people eat more than 1 cup, they’ll get a large portion of their sodium from a breakfast cereal most people think is healthy.
- Vegetable juice. In 8 ounces of vegetable juice, you can get nearly 500mg of sodium, which is one-third of the sodium you need in a day.
- A bagel. One brand of whole grain, plain bagel packs 490mg of sodium.
- Processed chicken breast strips. A half-cup of one brand of chicken breast strips contains about 460mg of sodium, while fresh chicken breast you cook on your own contains only about 40mg. Even if you add salt and flavorings to your home-cooked chicken, you’ll consume a lot less sodium than you will with the processed version.
- Pepperoni pizza. An individual serving of pepperoni pizza can pack nearly 1200mg of sodium.
- Canned vegetables. Canned veggies have lots of added sodium. For example, ½ cup of canned mushrooms can have 460mg of sodium, while fresh mushrooms have about 30mg.
- Boxed rice and pasta. Prepare some of the flavored rice and pasta options, and you’ll get nearly 1200mg of sodium per cup.
- Chicken noodle soup. Some brands of chicken noodle soup carry nearly 1000mg of sodium per half-cup, and most people eat at least a cup per meal, which means a small lunch could pack more sodium than you need for the entire day.
Fast food is also a huge culprit when it comes to adding sodium. Even the healthier options can have more than 3300mg of sodium per meal. Sandwiches with lunchmeat, salads with dressings, burgers, fried foods, catsup, soft drinks, and even pancakes and pickles will add up your total sodium intake very quickly. Fortunately, federal labeling laws require that food manufacturers and restaurants make nutritional content available to consumers, so it’s easier to be informed and to limit sodium.
Dr. DeBruler’s advice for cutting back on sodium? Become a label reader or, better yet, add more whole, unprocessed foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and beans) to your diet and stay away from convenience foods and pre-packaged items. It will go a long way toward keeping you healthy and helping prevent high blood pressure.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.