5 Shocking Places You're Loading Up on Sodium

sodium periodic table
When we hear 'sodium,' we most often think of salt. And from its use as currency to its everyday use in food, we love salt. See more salt pictures.
Jupiterimages/© Getty Images/Thinkstock

It's tough to eat healthy outside your own home. Heck, it's tough to eat healthy even when you cook every meal yourself. Unfortunately, many of the brands we love -- and the places that serve them -- offer up choices with surprisingly high sodium counts.

Over the course of a full day, we should consume no more than 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How much we actually consume -- on average, 3,436 to 3,712 mg per day, according to Huget -- is another matter entirely. That's more than double the recommended allotment.


Where are we getting all this sodium in our diets? You might be surprised to find out.

5: Public School Lunches

girl eating lunch
To limit your child's sodium intake from school cafeteria food, send her with a brown bag lunch.

Public schools get a lot of things right when it comes to educating our children, but that's not always the case in the lunchroom.

Children and teens should have no more than 1,800 mg of sodium a day, which means a school lunch should have less than 600 mg. Surprisingly, there are no federal limits on sodium in school lunches, and because kids can choose what they eat, processed foods make the cut more often than fruits and veggies.


Because one slice of cheese pizza -- a school cafeteria classic -- may have 340 to 600 mg of sodium, and kids put salt and ketchup on their fries, school lunches often exceed 1,000 mg of sodium. Brown bagging it looks like a healthier choice.

4: Hospital Cafeterias

The one place you should be able to eat a healthy meal is in a hospital, right? Not necessarily. Hospital cafeterias do have many healthy options, but they also have the comfort foods that tired employees and patients' relatives and guests prefer.

Sometimes, hospital cafeterias contract with outside vendors, and just like they do outside the hospital, our tasty favorites add loads of sodium to our diets. And the cafeterias themselves often include selections for everyone -- not just the health-conscious -- so hot dogs and cupcakes sit alongside salad and broccoli.


If you eat in a hospital cafeteria, show restraint in the serving line -- or you may find yourself being served in a hospital bed.

3: Salad Bars

salad bar
Surprisingly, the salad bar can be a source of high-sodium foods.

What sounds healthier than a salad bar? The term itself implies that you've chosen wisely over many other unhealthy choices. But veggies often comprise just a portion of the total offerings of a salad bar, and many of the extras are loaded with sodium.

  • Soups are high in sodium, but actual amounts vary by type.
  • American cheese has around 340 mg per slice.
  • Seasoned croutons come in at 125 mg per quarter-cup.
  • Salad dressing adds between 230 and 370 mg of sodium per ounce.

Next time you hit the salad bar, go easy on the extras and just enjoy your plate of greens.


2: Soda Vending Machines

school soda machine
Students purchase soft drinks from vending machines at Jones College Prep High School April 20, 2004, in Chicago, Ill. We know soda's loaded with sugar, but did you know it's a high-sodium beverage, too?
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

It seems like wherever you go, there they are: vending machines. They're in offices, outside grocery stores, inside hospitals and libraries, and even in grade schools. The sodium content of carbonated beverages isn't shockingly high when we drink just one a day. But what if you drink more?

Here's a quick breakdown of the sodium content in a few popular drinks, by the can:


  • Coke Zero: 40 mg
  • Barq's Root Beer: 70 mg
  • Caffeine Free Diet Coke: 40 mg
  • Coca-Cola: 45 mg
  • Monster Energy: 360 mg
  • Red Bull: 200 mg

To cut back on daily sodium, substitute water for cola whenever you can, limit your soda intake to one can a day or have some coffee, the pick-me-up with only 5 mg of sodium per cup.

1: The Candy Aisle

Most people know candy bars are loaded with fat and sugar, but they can also have high levels of sodium. Some choices have a lot more than others, with chocolate treats -- from M&Ms to Butterfinger -- leading the pack at around 200 to 300 mg of sodium per serving. Surprisingly, a 1-ounce (28-gram) butterscotch candy has an astounding 391 mg of sodium, while eight pieces of Starburst fruit chews have only 2 mg.

Everyone likes to enjoy candy now and then, but try not to make it a regular part of your daily snacking. And always read the labels -- you can satisfy your candy craving without compromising your sodium intake.


See the next section for lots more information on eating a low-sodium diet.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • ABC News. "Beware of Hidden High-Sodium Foods." Good Morning America. Aug. 1, 2006. (Nov. 3, 2010)http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=2259909&page=1
  • Bennett, Bev. "Reducing the high sodium content of condiments." Philadelphia Inquirer. Oct. 7, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010) http://www.philly.com/philly/health_and_science/CTW_health_20101007_Reducing_the_high_sodium_content_of_condiments.html
  • Briggs, Helen. "Call for Mandatory Salt Curbs." BBC News. Nov. 1, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11666377
  • CBS News. "What to Seek, Avoid in Frozen Diet Meals." The Early Show. Feb. 20, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/20/earlyshow/main6226470.shtml
  • The Coca-Cola Company. "Nutrition Connection." 2009. (Nov. 3, 2010)http://productnutrition.thecoca-colacompany.com/products/coca-cola-zero
  • Gazzaniga, Donald A. and Maureen A. Gazzaniga. "The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Light Meals Book." Thomas Dunne Books. 2005.
  • Huget, Jennifer LaRue. "Dietary Guidelines may reduce allowance for salt and sodium." The Washington Post. Nov. 4, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/01/AR2010110106078.html
  • Huget, Jennifer LaRue. "Is 1,500 mg of sodium a realistic goal?" The Washington Post. Nov. 2, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2010/11/is_1500_mg_of_sodium_a_realist.html?sid=ST2010110204277
  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now." May 22, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284
  • Nestle, Marion. "How Ultra-Processed Foods Are Killing Us." The Atlantic. Nov. 4, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/11/how-ultra-processed-foods-are-killing-us/65614/
  • Salt, Alec N., Ph.D. "Sodium Content of Common Foods." Washington University. (Nov. 3, 2010)http://oto2.wustl.edu/men/sodium.htm
  • SMI Analytical Laboratory Services. "Calories and Nutritional Information about our Food: Candy." (Nov. 3, 2010)http://www.smianalytical.com/food-nutritional-values/calories-fat-food.php?calories=CANDY&pgn=1
  • WebMD. "Salt Shockers Slideshow: High-Sodium Surprises." Nov. 17, 2008. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/diet/slideshow-salt-shockers