The Dangers of Sodium & 3 Ways to Cut Back

Health + Fitness

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By Emma Brownell

Do you avoid red meat? Opt for local? Know what “the dirty dozen” means -- and always buy organic? Me too. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not enough.

A new study links overconsumption of sodium with heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It’s estimated that the effects of too much salt cost the U.S. between $10 billion and $24 billion a year.

More research into the role of sodium indicates that red meat – when not salted – is actually better for you than that ham sandwich. Why? Cured meats – including lunchmeats and hot dogs -- are loaded with sodium (on average, 4 times that of red meat). Researchers believe that it is this sodium – along with the nitrates and nitrites that preserve the meats – that leads to the associated increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

If you think – No worries, I rarely pick up the saltshaker, and I’m not a big fan of cured meats – you’re not actually out of the woods. After learning of these studies' findings, I did a quick survey of my fridge and pantry. You may want to too. Here’s what I found:

  1. Bread can be loaded with salt. The bread that I like so much – because the ingredients are simply whole-wheat flour, water, yeast and salt – has 15% of my recommended daily intake of sodium per slice. If you eat 4-6 slices a day (that’s 2 pieces for breakfast, 2 for a sandwich at lunch and maybe 2 as a snack in the afternoon), you’re now at your sodium limit for the day.
  2. Pasta sauce has – on average – 15% of your recommended daily intake per serving. And if you like lots of sauce, that’s more like 30-45% per meal – just for the sauce.
  3. Soup, and canned soup particularly, usually has about 30-35% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) per serving.
  4. Microwavable meals can have between 20 and 40% of your RDI per serving.
  5. Snacks like popcorn, crackers, pretzels & chips are vehicles for salt and sodium.
  6. Condiments like mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, relish and salad dressing all have considerable sodium levels – which add up over the course of a meal or a day.

So what to do?

  • Eat more clean, unprocessed foods (like fruits, vegetables, brown rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes).
  • Read labels when you’re at the store – and choose accordingly.
  • Consider making your own versions of sodium-heavy foods -- and holding the salt.

A note – in taking these tips to heart, don’t eliminate all sodium from your diet. A little bit of sodium is essential for health. Learn more about sodium – the good and the bad – at

Emma Brownell is the editorial manager for The Women's Conference website.

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  • I've grown up in a very health-minded household and have constantly been preached to about the dangers of too much sodium intake. However, not until recently did I realize that most of the salt in my diet is from processed foods like Cheez-Its--not me personally salting my foods--and I like how this article expands even more on that point.
    The New York Times recently wrote an article about what it would take to lower the sodium levels in our favorite snack items and I found it interesting that some companies tried to many years ago but did not received positive feedback from customers (
    Overall, I would recommend quinoa as well over breads--it only has 9 mg of sodium per serving.

    Posted by mbeardsl, 28 June 2010.

  • What has been working for us is that several years ago, we decided to eat healthier and went through our pantry and refridgerator and threw away everything that has labels on them. Which was just about everything. We make our own condiments now (mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup). It's much faster and easier than most people think. We've changed our way of thinking about food and food preparation. Now we don't even think about our salt intake anymore because we use basic food ingredients when we prepare our food. Needless to say, our pantry and our refridgerator is pretty bare because we make what we need for the day and since the food we make is unprocessed foods, they don't last for more than a day. The heavy salt intake comes from manufacturers trying to increase the shelf life of foods they make by putting in the salt.

    Posted by What I believe, I am, 25 June 2010.