Americans seem to like a little food with their salt -- on average, we each consume almost 3,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium every day. Let's put that into context: The American Heart Association recommends we consume no more than 1 teaspoon of salt a day, which equals 2,300 mg of sodium or less. The recommendation drops to 1,500 mg of sodium for people who suffer from or are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. If you're looking for ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, it's always better to choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For example, consider the tomato.
Tomatoes are packed full of potassium and magnesium, but not sodium. In fact, they are a great low-sodium food to add to your diet. But as the tomato becomes more processed, the sodium levels change.
One cup of fresh tomato contains about 10 mg of sodium. Turn that tomato into 1 cup of tomato juice or 1 cup of tomato soup, and the sodium content jumps to about 700 mg. Even worse? One cup of store-bought tomato sauce contains nearly 1,000 mg of sodium, with heart-healthy versions bringing the count down to 720 mg per cup.
Surprised? You'll also be surprised at some of the foods with low (or no) sodium. First surprise food: cheese.
What the Label Means
Reading labels is an important part of choosing what foods you buy and eat. Don't let food labels mislead you, though. Here's what you need to know about sodium content:
- While these may or may not be naturally low-sodium foods, labels claiming no salt added/unsalted mean no salt was added during processing.
- Low-sodium foods contain 140 mg or less per serving.
- Very low-sodium foods contain 35 mg or less per serving.
- Salt-free/sodium-free foods must contain no more than 5 mg per serving.
Following a low-sodium diet doesn't have to mean avoiding one of the most popular guilty pleasures: cheese. Yes, cheese. It's full of protein and calcium, and we love it on our pizza and burgers. While not all cheeses can be considered low-sodium foods -- in fact, most aren't -- some types come close. One slice (1 ounce or 28 grams) of American cheese can contain upward of 400 mg of sodium, and that's definitely not a low-sodium food. But an ounce of cheddar cheese contains about 175 mg of sodium, and an ounce (28 grams) of Swiss cheese contains about 75 mg, making both relatively friendly to a low-sodium diet.
While water is the best beverage choice for a low-sodium diet, some diet sodas have low or very low sodium. Let's look at some popular cola brands. For example, 12 fluid ounces (360 ml) of Diet Coke contains 40 mg of sodium, and the same amount of Diet Pepsi contains 35 mg of sodium.
Remember, however, that while some diet sodas may be low in sodium, they are often high in artificial sweeteners and other artificial ingredients, and they are believed to increase our risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.
Before we start piling on the condiments, from butter and sour cream to chives and salt, potatoes are actually healthy foods. One plain baked potato contains almost the same amount of potassium as a banana and offers 45 percent of your recommended daily vitamin C.
A plain baked potato also has only about 7 mg of sodium (depending on its size), and if you skip the options at the potato bar, it's also a fat-free food. Be sure you don't discard the skin, though. Eating the whole potato, skin and all, adds 2 grams of fiber to your daily fiber intake, a recommended 30 to 38 grams per day for men and 21 to 28 grams per day for women.
There's more to a handful of peanuts than a satisfying crunch. A snack-size portion (about 1/3 of a cup) of nuts is high in protein, packed with unsaturated fats (these fats are good for you) and fiber, as well as vitamin E, B vitamins, iron and magnesium -- vitamins and minerals will vary from nut to nut.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, nuts and peanuts are also naturally low-sodium foods. A handful of unsalted peanuts, for example, comes in at less than 5 mg of sodium.
A large popcorn bought at the movie theater concession counter contains 1,500 mg of sodium, and that's without any toppings added to it. So why is it on our list of low-sodium foods? Forget about movie theater popcorn soaked in salt and butter-flavored oil. And forget about many of the microwave popcorn options out there, too (read the label): A bag of Pop-Secret's classic buttered popcorn packs about 1,000 mg of sodium, and other brands boast comparable numbers.
Popcorn, though, when it's unsalted and unbuttered, is a healthy whole grain. It's naturally a no-sodium food (less than 5 mg per serving), plus it's low-fat and high in fiber. Pop your own bowl at home where you can control how much or little salt and oil you eat.
Fresh fish is full of good nutrients. But sushi can be good or bad depending on what you order. HowStuffWorks breaks it down.
- About Nuts. "Good nutrition." (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.aboutnuts.com/en/lifestyle/nutrition/good_nutrition
- American Heart Association. "Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride)." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4708
- Anderson, J. et al. "Sodium in the Diet." Colorado State University Extension. May 12, 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09354.html
- Campbell's. "Product Nutrition." 2005. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.campbellwellness.com/product-collection.asp
- Center for Science in the Public Interest. "'Two Thumbs Down' for Movie Theater Popcorn." Nov. 18,2009. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.cspinet.org/new/200911182.html
- Cleveland Clinic. "Low-Sodium Guidelines for Heart Failure." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/heart_failure/hic_low-sodium_guidelines_for_heart_failure.aspx
- Coca-Cola. "Nutrition Connection: Products." 2009. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://productnutrition.thecoca-colacompany.com/welcome
- National Fiber Council. "Dietary Fiber: An Important Link in the Fight Against Heart Disease." 2006. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.gdhd.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=WZ7v%2FN8wUVY%3D&tabid=189&mid=686
- Pepsi. "Pepsi Product Information." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.pepsiproductfacts.com/infobyproduct.php
- Pop-Secret. "Products: The Buttery Best Nutritional Info." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010)http://www.popsecret.com/
- Prego. "Prego Nutrition Facts: Traditional Italian Sauce." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.prego.com/prego_product_nutrition.aspx?prd_product_id=2497
- Progresso. "Nutrition." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.progressosoup.com/healthy-soup.aspx
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH." April 2006. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf
- Washington State Potato Commission. "Washington Potatoes are Nutritious." 2010. (Oct. 27, 2010) http://www.potatoes.com/Nutrition.cfm