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How Much Salt Is Too Much? continued...

The investigation found that low-fat processed foods are often higher in salt than their full-fat counterparts.

Case in point: A serving of Ruffles Original Potato Chips was found to have 10 grams of fat and 160 milligrams of sodium; a serving of the baked version of the chip had 3 grams of fat but 200 milligrams of sodium.

Even foods that claim to be heart healthy can be filled with sodium. The Prego "Heart Smart" pasta sauce with 430 milligrams of sodium in a half-cup serving carries the American Heart Association logo because it is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

But since few people eat only a half a cup of pasta sauce during a meal, someone could easily consume 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of sodium in a single sitting.

And V8 "Heart Healthy" vegetable juice has 480 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving -- the highest amount of sodium the government allows per serving in a product labeled "healthy."

American Heart Association Chief Science Officer Rose Marie Robertson, MD, tells WebMD that it is important that people follow serving sizes if they are trying to restrict salt.

"You have to read the labels, and those labels should be made as easy to understand as possible," she says.

Shaking the Salt Habit

So what are some of the best ways to keep the salt in your family's diet at reasonable levels?

Some tips from Consumer Reports include:

  • Cook it yourself. It is much easier to control the salt in the foods your family eats if you cook it at home and replace some salt with spices and other flavorings like citrus juices and flavored vinegars. And use sodium-free broth as a base for homemade soups.
  • Read the labels. When you purchase processed foods, compare products to find lower-sodium varieties. Some very similar products have very different sodium levels. For example, pure maple syrup has almost no sodium, but most commercial "pancake" syrups have a lot.
  • Understand the claims. The federal government requires that products labeled "very low in sodium" have no more than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving, and "reduced sodium" products must have at least 25% less sodium per serving than the full-sodium version of the same food. A product labeled "healthy" can have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Know the sodium heavyweights. Soy sauce has about 1,160 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, and regular chicken bouillon has about 1,100 milligrams per packet, according to the report. Many frozen processed dinners are also loaded with sodium, as are cured meats, most cold cuts, and pickles and olives.

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