There’s no doubt that we eat too much salt. Current USDA guidelines recommend that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium—the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of table salt per day. One teaspoon! On average, we scarf closer to 3,436 mg per day, almost 50 percent more than the healthy limit!
So what’s the big deal? After all, the body needs sodium to control blood pressure and blood volume, and to keep muscles and nerves working properly, according to the National Institutes of Health. Too much sodium, however, can raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke—the first and third most common causes of death in the United States.
You may think you’re playing it safe if you just avoid the salt shaker, but you’d be wrong. That’s because sodium sneaks into foods where you don’t expect to find them! Beware of these five hidden sources of sodium.
Cereals and Bread
Your breakfast cereal, even if it tastes sweet, could be as salty as a serving of potato chips. New research published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension found that as much as 36 percent of our daily salt intake comes from commercial bread and cereals!
Read nutrition labels carefully because the sodium numbers can range wildly. One seemingly healthy cereal has a whopping 580 mg of sodium, whereas the box right next to it on the supermarket shelf has 0.
You can control your salt intake more directly by skipping processed cereals and breads in favor of old-fashioned home cooking. Good low-sodium choices are steel-cut oats, waffles, pancakes or eggs—add fresh fruit, raisins and unsalted nuts for flavor. If having your favorite cereal is not negotiable, mix half of it with puffed rice or puffed wheat, both of which are sodium-free.
Frozen Diet Meals
If a meal touts itself as being diet-friendly, you might think it would be a healthy choice overall. Think again.
While frozen dinners do have the advantage of being portion-controlled and are often low in calories, they’re just as high—if not higher—in sodium than standard frozen meals. That’s partly because sodium is a preservative, which extends the meal’s shelf life.
If the label doesn’t explicitly say “reduced sodium” or “heart healthy,” you can expect sodium levels in frozen diet dinners to reach 700 to 1,800 mg. That’s a third to a half your entire daily allowance! Even a seemingly healthy 5-ounce frozen turkey and gravy meal can weigh in at 787 milligrams of sodium.
Read the nutritional labels to choose entrées that are lower in sodium—ideally less than 500 mg. Better still, use the product as a base for a healthier meal—add your own fresh or plain frozen vegetables or fruit.
It’s made of vegetables, so it’s all good, right?
Vegetable juice may be chock-full of vitamins and antioxidants, thanks to the tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress, and spinach it can contain, but it can also be sky-high in sodium. In fact, one leading brand of tomato juice contains 600 mg of sodium in every 11.5-ounce can—fully 40% of your total daily intake of sodium in just one serving!
The good news: If you love vegetable juice, many brands are now offering a low-sodium version with less than half the salty stuff. Unless you really love it, though, fresh whole veggies and fruits are still the healthier way to get your 5 a day.
With their omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fiber, and other nutrients, nuts are amazing for heart health. But with too much added salt, they’re little better than junk food.
One ounce of dry roasted, salted peanuts can contain as much as 190 mg of sodium. Instead, opt for oil-roasted, which has 3 times less sodium than dry-roasted, or go totally raw for healthy deliciousness with a sodium count of practically zero.
Handy tip: Nuts packaged in their shells—walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts—typically come without salt. The exceptions are peanuts and pistachios, which are often salted unless they’re labeled otherwise.
Even a fresh, organic, balanced meal can be a sodium bomb if you’re not careful with add-ons.
Ketchup, soy sauce, barbeque sauce, and relish all pack a powerful sodium punch even in small amounts. For example, just 1 tablespoon of soy sauce adds 900 mg of sodium! A tablespoon of ketchup can yield 160 mg of sodium—and who usually stops at one spoonful?
Instead, opt for adding flavor without the sodium by using herbs and spices such as parsley, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro, fresh garlic, cinnamon, and even paprika for a taste that will leave both your taste buds and your heart happy
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