Low-Sodium Diet: Where is Sodium Hidden In Your Diet?

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

February is Heart Health Month! It’s a good time to look into the sodium you eat on a daily basis. There are many foods with hidden sodium – salt doesn’t just come from the salt shaker. But first of all, how much sodium should we eat?

How Much Sodium Per Day?

Different organizations have different recommended amounts, but all agree that the lower the better.

  • National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP): Less than 2400 mg per day; that’s approximately 1 teaspoon of salt
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 by USDA: Less than 2300 mg per day, or 1500 mg for people over age 51 and individuals with high blood pressure
  • The American Heart Association: Less than 1500 mg per day; that’s 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt
  • Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada: 2300 mg per day

Where Do You Find Sodium?

Hiding your salt shaker is not enough to cut back on sodium, as 75% of our salt intake comes from packaged foods alone! In my book, Go UnDiet, I call for us to Un-HPF – that is, stay away from highly processed foods.

Processed Foods High in Sodium

  • Canned soup
  • Canned vegetables and beans
  • Frozen dinners
  • Cup noodles or instant noodles/ramen
  • Frozen pizza
  • Sauces, marinades, dressings
  • Breakfast bagels and pancake mix
  • Processed meats such as bacon, ham, and sausages
  • Smoked/cured fish and meat
  • Crackers and cookies

And some unlikely foods with hidden sodium:

  • Frozen waffles: 430 mg/2 waffles
  • Hot dog buns: 400 mg/bun
  • Breakfast cereals:
    • Grape-Nuts: 460 mg /cup
    • Shreddies: 300 mg/cup
  • Cream-style corn: 730 mg/can
  • V8 Original: 420 mg/cup
  • Clamato: 870 mg/cup

How Do You Cut Back on Sodium?

The good news is that you can cut down on sodium by simply switching from processed foods to fresh foods. In addition, always look for the low-sodium versions of the packaged food.

  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned
  • Choose low-sodium broth and soup
  • Limit processed meats, frozen processed meats like nuggets and fish sticks, and foods packed in brine; choose fresh meats instead
  • Limit instant foods such as instant rice and noodles as well as frozen dinners
  • Rinse and drain canned foods such as canned vegetables if possible

Furthermore, look out for any form of the word “sodium” on the ingredient list. Additives such as sodium chloride, sodium citrate, and sodium bicarbonate are a few examples of hidden sodium found in packaged foods.

Understanding Sodium Claims on Labels

If you have followed my posts for years, you will know that I’m against foods that claim they’re fat-free, sugar-free, etc. However, with sodium, it’s is actually a good thing to get the “lowest” version possible. These are the terms you may see on a label:

  • Sodium-free: Less than 5 mg per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced or less sodium: At least 25% less per serving than reference food
  • Light in sodium: Food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50%

The Bottom Line

In general, a diet that emphasizes lots of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, lentils, and whole grains is effective in shaving points off a blood pressure reading. In particular, shedding pounds, cutting down on sodium, boosting potassium intake, and limiting alcohol are all proven ways to help control blood pressure.


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