Consumer Reports

Shaking salt from your diet not as easy as it sounds

On average, Americans consume far more sodium than the recommended daily limit, according to the editors of Consumer Reports. That’s unfortunate, since a high-sodium diet might increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure — and subsequent heart attack, kidney disease and stroke — and might also boost the risk of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.
But cutting back isn’t easy. Adding sodium is a cheap way to improve the taste and texture of countless processed and prepared foods, which are where Americans get three-quarters of the sodium in their diets.
CR recently analyzed 37 foods to see how their actual sodium content compared with the amount claimed on the label. Labels told the truth, and some products even had less sodium than claimed.
Accurate labeling is the good news. The bad news is that sodium lurks in foods that most people would never think to check.
Surprising sodium
Dietary guidelines recommend that healthy adults get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, the amount in just 1 teaspoon of table salt (sodium chloride). People with hypertension, those middle-aged and older and African-Americans should aim for less than that — no more than 1,500 mg. But the average American ingests 2,900 to 4,300 mg daily.
CR’s food experts hit supermarkets to ferret out products in which sodium might be a surprise. Among them:
— Twizzlers Black Licorice Twists. Four strands have 200 mg. Strangely, four strands of Twizzlers Strawberry Licorice only have 115 mg.
— Raisin-bran cereals. Kellogg’s has 350 mg per cup; Post, 300 mg; Total, 230 mg.
— Jell-O Instant Pudding & Pie Filling Mix. The chocolate flavor contains 420 mg per serving; lemon, 310 mg; chocolate fudge, 380 mg.
— Prego Heart Smart Traditional Italian Sauce. An American Heart Association logo on the label means that saturated fat and cholesterol are restricted, but not that sodium is super-low. This sauce has 430 mg per half-cup.
— Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix. Prepared as directed, the pancakes have roughly 200 mg of sodium each.
— Heart Healthy V8 vegetable juice. Just one cup has 480 mg.
— Fast foods. Some fast-food fare that might appear to be healthy also has surprisingly high levels of sodium. McDonald’s Premium Caesar Salad with grilled chicken, for example, has 890 mg — without dressing. A large order of fries has 350 mg.
What consumers can do
In addition to checking food labels for sodium content, CR advises consumers to do the following:
— Shop for condiments with no salt added. And consider buying canned vegetables packed with less salt. Avoid meats and poultry that have been marinated or injected with salty solutions.
— Be a salt-conscious chef. Taste before adding salt. Use herbs and spices, salt-free seasoning blends, citrus juice or zest and flavored vinegars instead of salt. Use sodium-free broth as a base for homemade soup.
— Eat one serving. A cup of Progresso 50 percent Less Sodium Chicken Noodle soup has 470 mg of sodium, about half the amount in Progresso Traditional. But consuming the whole can of the 50 percent Less Sodium soup results in almost 1,000 mg.
— Avoid sodium heavyweights. Or limit them when possible. They include soy sauce (1,160 mg per tablespoon), chicken bouillon (1,100 mg per packet), frozen dinners (like Stouffer’s Lasagna with Meat & Sauce, which has 930 mg per serving) and Spam (790 mg per 2 ounces), as well as cured meats such as bacon, ham and hot dogs; sardines and smoked salmon; and brined foods, such as pickles and olives.
— Eat at home. A diner can easily consume a day’s worth of sodium in a single restaurant dish.
— Check meds. Some drugs contain sodium. People on sodium-restricted diets should check with their doctor.