There’s good news and bad news when it comes to sodium. The good news? Sodium is a mineral you need to live. It keeps fluids and electrolytes balanced and regulates your blood pressure. It also gives food a salty flavor.
The bad news? You’re probably eating *wayyy* more sodium than your body needs. And that can be bad for your health.
But we’re not here to rub salt in that wound. We are here to help you identify some of the saltiest items that may be in your diet and to recommend some smart swaps.
Fast facts on foods high in sodium
What’s the link between salt and high blood pressure? Your body needs sodium to function. But getting too much sodium can have negative effects like increased blood pressure.
Eating lots of sodium all the time may mean your blood pressure stays elevated, which can lead to life threatening health probs like heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Which foods are high in sodium? In the United States, more than 70 percent of dietary sodium tends to come from packaged and prepared foods.
These 15 foods are some of the biggest contributors:
- Canned soup
- Cottage cheese
- Salad dressing
- Beef jerky
- Deli meat
- Boxed meals
- Frozen meals
- Baked beans
- Canned vegetables
- Hot dogs
- Pork products
What’s considered high sodium in foods? According to the FDA, the recommended Daily Value (DV) for sodium is 2,300 milligrams (mg) or less. When a food item contains 460 mg of sodium or more per serving (20 percent or more of the DV), it’s considered a high sodium item.
Sodium is a mineral that’s found naturally in some foods but is added to many others in the form of sodium chloride. This salt can be added during food prep or manufacturing.
Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium — a whole day’s worth! That makes it really easy to overdo it on this savory ingredient. In fact, 90 percent of people in the United States consume too much sodium.
What’s the big deal about showing salt too much love? Consistently eating too much sodium (especially through processed foods) has been linked to conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Eating a low sodium diet can also benefit folks who experience:
- kidney disease
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
The average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Looking to limit your sodium intake? Here are 15 of the saltiest foods and how to make a switcheroo for each.
1. Canned soup
Sometimes the convenience of a hot bowl of soup comes from a can. But those easy premade soups are extremely high in sodium.
2. Cottage cheese
Salt in cheese helps stop bacteria growth, keep moisture in check, and enhance taste and texture.
One of the saltiest cheeses is cottage cheese. A 2 percent product contains 696 mg of sodium per cup.
FYI: If you go for a lower-fat cottage cheese, you’ll end up with a product that’s higher in sodium (1 percent milkfat cottage cheese contains 918 mg of sodium per cup).
Low sodium cottage cheese is becoming increasingly popular. But be prepared that it prob won’t taste the same as its sodium-packed counterpart.
3. Salad dressing
The superstar of a salad tends to be the dressing. Many salad dressings contain added salt, MSG, or other sodium derivatives.
If you’re a ranch dressing lover, every tablespoon you eat contains 135 mg of sodium. Vinegar-based dressings are comparable when it comes to sodium content, with Italian dressing containing 146 mg per tablespoon.
DIY your salad dressing! Vinegar and oil make a great base. Just add you fave herbs and spices to amp up the flavor.
4. Beef jerky
This on-the-go snack isn’t just packed with protein — it’s also packed with sodium. The added salt helps preserve and flavor the meat.
5. Deli meat
Whether you make a sammie at home or hit up a local deli, if you’re eating cold cut deli meats, you’re prob eating a lot of sodium. These meats are processed with added sodium to preserve the meat and give it flavor.
More companies are now releasing reduced sodium versions of deli meats. For example, a low sodium turkey would push the sodium back to 189 mg per 28 grams. If you have a go-to brand, scope out their website to see if they post the nutritional stats for their products.
Pickling involves immersing food (like cucumbers, green beans, or cabbage) in a saltwater brine. This helps preserve the food and gives it a somewhat sour flavor.
One dill pickle spear contains 323 mg of sodium. In moderation, that might be manageable for you. But if you’re snacking on a pickle along with your salty chips and salami sandwich, the sodium content can add up quickly.
7. Boxed meals
A 1-cup serving of prepared boxed mac and cheese contains 869 mg of sodium. (And who eats just 1 cup of mac and cheese?)
- The sauce or spice packet typically provides the bulk of the sodium in a boxed meal. If these packets are separated in the box, try adding less than called for or making your own low sodium version.
- Have a little more time? Try whipping up one of these quick meals in 10 minutes or less.
8. Frozen meals
If you’re leaving the boxed meal aisle and heading toward the freezer section, you might be disappointed. Frozen meals can also pack a mean sodium punch. Pizza is a common frozen meal that’s particularly high in sodium.
Look for frozen meals that contain plenty of vegetables and whole grains with minimal sauce. Check out the nutrition facts to compare options while you’re in the store.
9. Baked beans
Baked beans are a popular summer side dish often paired up with hamburgers, hot dogs, and other grilled faves. The bummer is that they’re packed with sodium. One cup of canned baked beans (with added pork) contains 1,050 mg of sodium.
Unlike with regular canned beans, you can’t rinse them to reduce that sodium level, either.
Stand out from other partygoers and create your own baked beans. Just make sure to lay off the salt and boost the flavor with herbs and spices.
The salt is pretty noticeable when you’re eating pretzels — whether you get the twists, rods, or nuggets, they’re all topped with a hefty dose of coarse salt.
Depending on the brand, pretzel rods can contain 280 mg of sodium per 30-gram serving.
Although unsalted pretzels exist, they don’t provide much nutritional value. Instead, try a snack of fresh veggies and hummus (or another dip — just check the labels and opt for lower-sodium options).
11. Canned vegetables
Since canned vegetables don’t go bad as quickly as fresh ones (we see you, wilted spinach we bought a week ago and never touched), they’re an understandably convenient option.
Much like every other canned food, canned veggies contain a hefty amount of sodium. One cup of drained canned mixed vegetables has 349 mg of sodium.
- Choose plain frozen vegetables if you’re looking for a long lasting option.
- After draining canned veggies, rinse them to remove some of the sodium sitting on them.
12. Sauces and condiments
Another commonly salty sauce is BBQ. Depending on the brand, one dipping container could contain around 288 mg of sodium.
- Many sauces, including soy sauce, come in lower-sodium varieties.
- You can also create some of your own sauces (and skip the added salt).
13. Hot dogs and bratwurst
What tends to go with salty baked beans? The hot dog. Oh, and its cousin, bratwurst. These grilled wieners typically contain sodium nitrate, which helps preserve them but also means they have quite a bit of sodium.
You probably won’t find many low salt processed meats. Instead, try out plant-based dogs, which tend to have lower amounts of sodium. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. Be sure to double-check the label to make the savviest swap.
14. Pork products
Sausage, bacon, and ham: all pork products… and all salty as the sea. Many of these meats are cured, which essentially means salt is added to the meat to preserve it and boost flavor.
15. Bagels and other breads
What’s salt doing in bread? It helps control yeast fermentation, improves crust color, and adds flavor.
- Although it may take some searching, some bread options are low in sodium. Check to see if any are available at your local store.
- You could always go the homemade route and make your own tasty low sodium bread.
Your body doesn’t love it when you eat too much salt. Consistently overdoing it on salt could increase your risk of life threatening health probs, especially if you have certain preexisting medical conditions.
Aim to stay below the recommended daily value of 2,300 mg of sodium by limiting high sodium foods (like deli meat and packaged meals) and making lower-sodium swaps.