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Beware of the Salt Shockers

Dozens of foods can drive your sodium consumption way past recommended levels.
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For example, seedless raisins, at 16 milligrams of sodium per cup, are low-sodium. A piece of angel food cake, at 210 milligrams, is moderate.

Looking at labels can help you find the sodium in your grocery items. But realize that the sodium listing is for just one serving size, not the whole container, Yurczyk cautions. "If you eat two servings, you'll have to double the amount of sodium."

Labels can guide you in making better choices within food categories, too, such as breads and pastries. For instance, a croissant contains 424 milligrams of salt, compared with only 148 milligrams for one slice of whole-wheat bread.

Dangers Dining Out

Restaurant dining poses another hazard. If you frequent fast-food restaurants -- where sodium abounds in sauces, fries, lunch meats, and even salad dressings -- ask for a nutrition fact sheet, Yurczyk suggests. That way, you'll get the skinny on how much sodium is really in that biscuit with egg and sausage: 1,141 milligrams. Or that 6-inch submarine sandwich with cold cuts: 1,651 milligrams. "It's a bit scary how much sodium is in fast-food meals," she says.

Other types of restaurants aren't likely to have nutrition fact sheets. But Yurczyk says you can still make sodium-sensible choices.

What gets the thumbs down from Yurczyk? "Soup -- in restaurants, it's not likely to be low-sodium; appetizers with cheese and prosciutto and processed meats; a casserole with cheese and sausage."

And the thumbs up? "If you order fish, steamed vegetables, and a salad on the side, it's not going to be a high-sodium meal."

The Great Sodium Debate

Hillel Cohen, DrPH, a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, fired the latest salvo in the great sodium debate. His study shows that people who reported eating limited salt were actually 37% more likely to die of cardiovascular causes, such as stroke and heart disease, than people who ate larger amounts of salt. Cohen is an associate professor of epidemiology and population health.

The medical establishment has revered the low-sodium diet for so long that it's hard to get doctors to question it, he says. Cohen doesn't bother to follow the conventional wisdom himself. "I actually don't pay attention to sodium."

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