If you think you’re safe from America’s salt addiction because you don’t salt your food at the dinner table and you never snack on potato chips, you may want to reassess. Research shows that 75 percent of the average American’s sodium intake comes from processed foods (that’s just about anything that comes in a bag, jar, or can—a.k.a., your entire pantry).
Here’s why that’s a problem: You might think you’re making healthy choices by picking up a can of vegetable soup instead of clam chowder, but it’s actually loaded with sodium to preserve the soup as long as possible (and, you know, to taste good).
If you’re having three meals a day with that much sodium and not realizing it, you might be eating more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—a single teaspoon’s worth—according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
Sodium works in balance with the mineral potassium. While salt increases blood pressure, potassium can lower it by relaxing blood vessels. (FYI, here are potassium-packed food to add to your diet.) Because food processing tends to remove potassium and add sodium, all that canned and boxed food can become a disaster for your heart and blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney problems. Not great news.
Before you raid your pantry and ditch all your super-salty snacks (sorry, pretzels), remember that sodium winds up in some unexpected places—even the sweet stuff. A serving of potato chips has about 120 milligrams of sodium, and you can find sweet-tasting breakfast cereals that have way more sodium than that.
Here are surprising foods with more sodium than a bag of potato chips.
Spaghetti ring pasta: 600 mg in 1 cup
Roasted garlic alfredo sauce: 340 mg in ¼ cup
Fruit ring cereal: 136 mg in 1 cup
Peanut butter protein bar: 360 mg in 1 bar
Ketchup: 170 mg in 1 tbsp
Chicken noodle soup: 840 mg in ½ cup
Frozen cheesy broccoli side: 430 mg in ½ cup
Instant chocolate pudding mix: 443 mg in 1 serving
With all this sneaky sodium hiding in unexpected places (pudding?!), your best bet is to DIY. Salt is there for preservation in most cases, and you can cook up broccoli at home with a fraction of the sodium, and with more vitamins and minerals.
Try HealthiNation’s recipe for high-protein waffles with less than half the amount of sodium than what you’d find in the freezer section. Make a big batch and store the leftovers in your freezer, and you’ll have easy breakfast for days.