Shakin' It Up with the Skinny on Salt

Even if you are not a potato chip and pretzel junkie, you’re probably eating more salt than you realize. Sodium, the main ingredient in table salt, can hide in places you don’t suspect, like in ketchup, frozen dinners, instant hot cereals and some medications.

What’s Harmful About Sodium?
High levels of sodium can cause the body to retain too much fluid. This can be harmful to people with high blood pressure or heart, liver or kidney diseases. People with these conditions should be especially careful about sodium intake. But there’s some debate on whether everyone needs to worry about all of this salt talk. We’ll listen to the USDA, who recommends that we need to choose and prepare foods with less sodium. The average American adult consumes about 2,500 to 5,000 milligrams of sodium a day. But we only need 1,100 to 3,300 milligrams, or about 1/2 to 1-1/2 teaspoons. That can be a pretty big difference.

Where are we getting so much sodium in our diets?
Think about all the times we add salt during cooking or as a seasoning to a prepared meal. Surprisingly, our own salt shaking doesn’t compare to the major sources of “hidden” sodium in our diets found in processed foods and baked products. Some examples include salad dressings, mustard, meat tenderizer, cheeses, instant foods, pickles, canned vegetables and soups, salsa and barbecue sauce. Even common medications such as antacids, laxatives and cough remedies contain sodium compounds.

The keys to watching our sodium levels are to be aware of which foods have a high sodium content and to limit how much of those foods we eat. Practice checking the nutrition facts labels of packaged foods for the exact sodium content per serving. Some label terms can help our purchase decisions:



sodium free or salt free less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
low sodium

140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving

reduced or less sodium at least 25% less sodium than the food’s standard serving
light sodium

50% less sodium than the food's standard serving

unsalted or no salt added

no salt added during processing, but could contain naturally occurring sodium

Steps to Reduce Your Sodium
  • Limit your use of the salt shaker. Try a shaker with smaller holes.
  • Substitute salt seasoning with other flavorings, such as onion, garlic, lemon, vinegar, black pepper, or parsley.
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables without added salt.
  • Cook fresh or frozen fish, poultry and meat more often than canned or processed forms.
  • Compare the amounts of sodium in various brands of frozen dinners, packaged mixes, cereals, cheese, breads, salad dressings, soups and sauces. Sodium content varies widely among different brands.
  • Rinse canned beans and vegetables to remove added salt before cooking.
  • Choose foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “sodium free.”
  • Know how much sodium is in your favorite condiments, especially soy sauce, steak sauce, ketchup and salsa. Limit your intake accordingly.
  • Avoid foods with MSG (monosodium glutamate), particularly when dining out. You can ask to have your meal prepared without MSG.
  • Try to limit your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams.
One thing that the experts do agree on is that getting a balanced diet with more fruits and vegetables is more important than obsessing over one ingredient, like sodium. So it’s good to be mindful of how much sodium you’re taking in, but concentrate more on an overall nutritious diet.
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Member Comments

I like to taste what I am eating, so fortunately that means I prefer low salt, fat and "dressing" free foods in my diet. I don't use much butter or margarine either. At least my preferences are good for me in this case. Report
I have significantly reduced the amount of salt I add to food. Report
Very applicable issue in our family. When I cook, we primarily use No Salt or Morton Lite -- also make a lot of our spice blends using the same substitutes. We are also lucky to have a health store that sells fresh spices in bulk and a good many are no salt types. Report
Trying to limit my sodium, thanks for these tips. Report
I'm getting better at limiting my salt, but I can still do better. Thanks for more info. Report
Excellent article. Good need-to-know information. Report
Good article. Thank you Report
Good article, excellent need-to-know information.Thank
s! Report
I am a salt lover but have been trying to cut down. It is very hard. Report
I am truly amazed at how much sodium is hidden in our foods, before we add the salt! Thanks for sharing this very informative article! Report
My biggest surprise when started reducing the salt was that my migraines were reduced by 99.9% Report
The email which I clicked through to this articles said canned peas were high in sodium. Hm. Never eat them--but I do eat fresh and frozen peas so I'm glad I avoided that pitfall. Many of the "high" sodium foods come in lower salt alternatives in my local grocery store. Right next to the HIGH salt version is "no salt added" or "low salt" version. Things like Peanut Butter do not need salt in them! Thankfully that option is easy at our local stores. Report
Purchased flour tortillas shocked me, now I make my own. Report
I try not to eat out due to sodium. I had a Wendy's Power Mediterranean salad the other day. 1220 mg. sodium. Are restaurants trying to kill us!? Report
I cook most of our meals. We add Himalayan salt to taste Report


About The Author

Laura Bofinger
Laura Bofinger
As a freelance writer, Laura uncovers some kind of inspiration every day when she writes about health and fitness.
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