teaspoon of sea salt
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Are You Getting Too Much Salt?

Most of us get more than we need. Recommendations from the American Heart Association and the U.S. government range from 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. If you want to cut back, you need to do more than ease up on the shaker on your table. Watch what you eat. You may be shocked by some of the foods that are high in salt.

 

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TV Dinner with turkey and stuffing
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Frozen Dinners

They're quick. They're easy. And they're loaded with sodium. A 5-ounce frozen turkey and gravy dinner packs 787 milligrams.

Tip: A "lighter" version may have less salt, but it's no guarantee. Read the labels to be sure. It's possible that "lighter" refers to fat only.

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Bowl of bran flakes with raisins
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Ready-to-Eat Cereals

Check out the nutrition facts label. Some brands of raisin bran have up to 250 milligrams of sodium in each cup.

Tip: Puffed rice and wheat don't have salt. Mix half of your favorite cereal with half of a salt-free choice. Or look for companies that make low-sodium cereals.

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Tomato cocktail with herbs in a glass
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Vegetable Juices

They help you get the 2 to 2.5 cups of veggies you need a day. But they can have a lot of sodium. One cup of vegetable juice cocktail has 479 milligrams.

Tip: Shop around. Many brands make a low-salt version.

 

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man eating salmon
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Canned Vegetables

They often have preservatives, sauces, or seasonings that add extra sodium. A cup of canned cream-style corn may have 730 milligrams.

 Tips: Rinse canned veggies thoroughly, or look for labels that say "no salt added" or “low sodium." Check the freezer section, where you may have more luck finding an unsalted choice.

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Mother selecting packaged deli meat in grocery
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Packaged Deli Meats

One look at the salt content in packaged meats should stop you in your tracks. Two slices of dry salami made of beef or pork can have 362 milligrams of sodium.

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Bowl of alphabet soup with fresh bread
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Soup

It's a warm comfort food on a cold day, but watch out. It can be loaded with salt. A cup of canned chicken noodle soup has as much as 744 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: Look for reduced-sodium versions of your favorites. And always check the label carefully. You might find that one brand's "Healthy" version actually has less sodium than the "25% Less Sodium" variety.

 

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Sauce packets on a Chinese menu
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Marinades and Flavorings

Some of your favorites may be super salty. One tablespoon of teriyaki sauce can have 690 milligrams of sodium. The same amount of soy sauce may have up to 1,024 milligrams.

Tips: Even "lower-sodium" soy sauce can have a lot, so use it sparingly. Go for vinegar and lemon juice to enhance flavor, since they naturally have less salt. Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.

 

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Woman choosing jar from supermarket shelf
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Spaghetti Sauce

Half a cup may have 554 milligrams of sodium, and that's barely enough to coat a helping of pasta.

Tip: Look for "no salt added" versions of your favorite sauces.

 

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Seven spices in little white bowls
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Spicing It Up

Adding spices to an entrée can be an easy way to forgo the salt shaker. Just make sure there's no hidden sodium in your selection. For example, canned jalapeno peppers (1/4 cup, solids and liquids) have about 568 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: Go for the pepper in its natural form to ditch the sodium used in processing. Or use herbs and salt-free spices instead.

 

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close shot of dry roasted peanuts
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Aw, Nuts!

Rethink those salty peanuts. An ounce of most dry-roasted brands have 192 milligrams of sodium.

Tips: For about the same amount of calories, an ounce of oil-roasted, salted peanuts has only 76 milligrams of sodium. Or better yet, buy the unsalted variety, which are practically sodium-free.

 

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Salty pretzels
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Salty Snacks

They're hard to resist, but they may have a lot of sodium in every ounce. Potato chips have 136 milligrams, cheese puffs 240, and pretzels 385.

Tip: Even "baked" or fat-free snacks can have the same amount of sodium or more, so check the label.

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man eating salmon
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Pre-packaged Foods

Rice, potatoes, and pasta in their natural forms are low in salt. But if you get the convenient "all-in-one" box and add the flavor packet, you may end up eating more than half of your daily allowance of sodium in just one serving.

Tips: Skip the packaged rice. Choose a plain, fast-cooking type and add your own seasonings. Or microwave potatoes to serve with your choice of fixings.

  

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Hot dog with relish, ketchup, onions and chips
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Condiments Count

If you think those little extras you add to your food aren't a source of salt, think again.

  • Ketchup (1 tablespoon) = 167 milligrams
  • Sweet relish (1 tablespoon) =  122 milligrams
  • Capers (1 tablespoon) = 255 milligrams (drained)

Tip: Go for low- or sodium-free versions. Or get creative with substitutions: Try cranberry relish or apple butter for a naturally lower-salt choice.

 

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Nutrition label with serving size circled
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Watch the Serving Size

The amount of sodium you see on a nutrition label isn't for the whole package. It's just for one serving. Always check to see how many are in each container. 

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man eating salmon
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Food Label Claims

They can be confusing, but you can figure them out with this cheat sheet:

  • Sodium-free: Less than 5 milligrams for each serving
  • Very low-sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium: Less than 140 milligrams per serving
  • Reduced sodium: 25% less salt
  • Unsalted, no salt added, or without added salt: Made without the salt that's normally used, but still has the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself.

 

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Person reading ingredients on cereal box
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What's in a Name?

When you're scanning a food label, don't just look for the word "salt." Watch out for various forms of sodium or other names for the same thing:
 

  • sodium alginate
  • sodium ascorbate
  • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • sodium benzoate
  • sodium caseinate
  • sodium chloride
  • sodium citrate
  • sodium hydroxide
  • sodium saccharin
  • sodium stearoyl lactylate
  • sodium sulfite
  • disodium phosphate
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • trisodium phosphate
  • Na
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Effervescent tablet in glass of water
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Check Your Medicine Cabinet

Surprise! Some headache or heartburn medications have sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. Read the ingredient list and warning statement to be sure.

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Bowl of French onion soup with melted cheese
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Pitfalls When Eating Out

Restaurant food can be a huge source of hidden salt. Soups, appetizers with cheese or meat, casseroles, and rice pilaf are some dishes to watch out for. If you ask, most restaurants will prepare your food without added salt.

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man eating salmon
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Better Menu Choices

Fish can be a lower-sodium option, as long as you pay attention to how it's seasoned. Steamed veggies, prepared without salt, are another smart choice. Also, try a salad with dressing on the side. Low-sodium desserts include fruit, ice cream, sherbet, or angel food cake.

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Waitress taking woman's order
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'Dos' When Dining Out

  • Ask how the cook prepares your meal.
  • Choose a restaurant where dishes are made to order.
  • Ask the chef to make your dish without any type of sodium, then add a dash of salt-free seasoning you brought from home, or a squeeze of lemon or lime.

 

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Plain Juicy Hamburger
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When You're Eating Fast Food

Try these helpful tips:

  • Get rid of the toppings except for veggies like lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Skip the cheese, go easy on condiments, and don't add salt.
  • Don't supersize. Order off the children's menu for smaller portions.
  • Eat a low-sodium diet for the rest of the day.
  • Ask for a nutrition fact sheet at the restaurant, or find it online before you go, to help you make the best possible low-sodium choices.

 

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Business executives having lunch
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Who Should Go Low-Sodium?

U.S. guidelines call for about half of Americans to limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less per day, including:

  • People age 51 and older
  • African-Americans
  • People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or long-term kidney disease

Cutting back on salt can cut blood pressure in some people. It can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage in those who have high blood pressure.

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Woman writing in notebook
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Track Your Salt

Don't know how much you get every day? Keep a daily tally of what you eat and drink. Then look up how much sodium is in each item. You may be surprised at what you find. The average American takes in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, well above the limits recommended for good health.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/29/2015 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 29, 2015

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES

American Heart Association: "Sodium Guidelines Set by the FDA," "Cutting Down on Salt."

CDC: "Sodium Q&A."

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.

MedlinePlus: "Sodium Bicarbonate."

USDA: "Lowering Salt in Your Diet," "Food Additive Status List," "Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide," "USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference."

USDA: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 29, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.