What You Should Know About Salt and Your Food Label

By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN

There’s no doubt about it: Processed foods tend to contain more sodium than fresh ones. I like to cook a lot of my own meals, but even those meals sometimes contain prepacked shortcuts, such as canned beans.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily — even though most Americans take in a lot more than this, 3,400 milligrams on average. There’s some good news: A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that sodium intake from packaged foods significantly decreased from 2000 to 2014. The study authors looked at more than 172,000 households via the Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel, and found that sodium in packaged food purchases dropped by about 12 percent over the study period. Declines were primarily seen in the condiment, sauce, and dip categories. 

Despite these positive changes, the majority of the consumers in the study took in more than the recommended amount of sodium. Give these tips a try to help reduce your sodium intake:

  • Buy no-salt-added canned foods. Options exist for foods such as canned beans and canned tomatoes.
  • Taste your food before you salt it. If the ingredients contain sodium, you may not need to add any additional salt.
  • Sprinkle from up high. If you do add salt to a dish, sprinkle a small amount from high above the dish so that it disperses more evenly — allowing you to use less.
  • Try salt-free seasonings. In its Mrs. Dash line, B&G Foods sells a wide variety of these, or you can make your own blends of garlic and onion powder.
  • Slash your bottled condiment portions. Ketchup and the like contain a concentrated amount of sodium. Low-sodium options are better — but picks like low-sodium soy sauce still contain a good amount of sodium, so be careful.
  • Use fresh condiments rather than processed ones. Diced onions on a hot dog pack in less sodium than relish, and fresh salsa on a burger contains less sodium than jarred salsa.
  • Read labels. You might be surprised where sodium is hiding, such as in packaged crackers, breads, tomato sauces, frozen pizza, and packaged meats (such as chicken enhanced with sodium). Compare labels to pick lower-sodium options. Ideally look for products with no more than 5 percent of the daily value for sodium, and not more than 20 percent. You can also pair higher-sodium goods with higher-potassium ones like low-fat dairy and fresh fruits and vegetables to help reduce blood pressure.

How do you reduce the sodium in your diet? Tell me on Connect @amy_gorin! 

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