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Salt Lurks in Unsuspected Foods

Sure, Fast Food and Frozen Dinners Are Often High in Sodium, but Pancake Mix and Bagels, Too?

How Much Salt Is Too Much? continued...

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.

Robertson says most people who lower their salt intake quickly find that foods that previously tasted OK suddenly taste too salty.

"If you reduce the salt by even a modest amount, you will find that you are tasting the food more instead of the salt," she says. "This is a very simple thing that would be beneficial to most people. High blood pressure is an important risk factor for heart failure and stroke, and reducing salt is an easy way for salt-sensitive people to lower their risk."

"The food and beverage industry is committed to helping consumers meet the government's Dietary Guidelines recommendations -- including that for sodium," says Scott W. Openshaw, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "Many food companies have reformulated products or reduced the use of sodium in processed foods. Today consumers have available to them a broad range of foods containing no sodium or low sodium, or with no added salt. It is also important to note that food companies have been very successful at making incremental reductions in salt levels in food products over time that are silent to the consumer."

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