Are you making these high-sodium mistakes?
America has a bit of a sodium problem. For decades, experts have raised concern about high sodium intake in the average American diet, and warned about the effect of too much sodium on health. The problem is, many Americans don’t realize they’re doing it—or where the sodium in their diet is actually coming from.
The recommended maximum limit of sodium for adults is 2,300 mg, but the average American eats more than 3,400 mg daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium intake at this level increases the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Trying to avoid eating excess sodium? It’s important to know where your sodium intake is coming from. Hint: It’s not necessarily the potato chips.
Misconceptions About Sodium Consumption
MYTH: High-sodium intake is caused by salting your food at the table
In reality, table salt is just a small portion of the average American’s sodium intake. The vast majority of sodium intake actually comes from processed, packaged food (such as frozen pizza or boxed mac and cheese) and restaurant meals.
MYTH: High sodium intake is caused by eating salty snacks
When most people think of salt, they think of salty snacks like nuts, chips, and pretzels. However, salty snacks only account for a small percentage of sodium intake in the average American diet, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s not insignificant, but if you really want to lower your sodium intake, it’s important to know where the bulk of the sodium is coming from. (Here are 8 surprising foods with more sodium than a bag of chips.)
Surprisingly, some of the top sources of sodium in the average American diet include bread (!!), pizza, deli meat, and soup. Remember, a lot of these foods fall in the category of highly processed or restaurant food. Sodium is useful for giving foods a longer shelf-life and/or better flavor.
MYTH: You can avoid high-sodium restaurant foods by ordering “healthy” options
Somehow, even restaurant salads can be sky-high in sodium. Some chain restaurant salads may even have higher sodium counts than a bacon cheeseburger. The sodium may be hiding in the salad dressing, in add-ins like croutons, or in proteins like cold cuts or fried chicken. If you’re concerned about sodium levels at a chain restaurant, check the nutritional info on their website ahead of time or ask your waiter.
MYTH: The best way to not eat too much sodium is by switching to reduced-sodium products
Many people who are trying not to eat too much sodium will switch to reduced-sodium foods. For example, you can buy no-salt-added canned beans, reduced-sodium chicken broth, low-salt nuts, reduced-salt canned soup, and so on.
Reduced-sodium items can help lower your overall intake. However, an even more impactful way to reduce sodium intake is by eating fewer processed meals. Eating meals made with fresh, whole ingredients will naturally reduce sodium intake. For example, making your own homemade soup often results in lower sodium content than reduced-sodium canned soup.
The Takeaway on Eating Too Much Sodium
Cutting back on sodium is difficult if you don’t know the true sources of sodium in your diet. It might be helpful to track your sodium intake throughout the day in a food journal to get a more accurate picture of your diet. For help reducing your sodium intake, talk to a registered dietitian. You can also check out these helpful resources:
- Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th ed. (Accessed on December 2, 2020)
- Get the facts: sodium and the dietary guidelines. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on December 2, 2020)
- Sodium sources: where does all that sodium come from? Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on December 2, 2020)