The Top 20 Food Sources of Sodium in the American Diet

Salt is mostly sodium chloride (NaCl). This sa...

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The Grocery Manufacturer’s Organization (GMA), an advocacy group representing food and beverage manufacturers, periodically publishes science policy papers as “a guide for consumers, policymakers, and the media”. In a recent publication entitled Sodium and Salt [download PDF], the GMA tackles a sensitive topic for consumers and manufacturers.

One of the interesting findings in this 22 page report, is a list of the top 20 individual food sources of sodium in our diets, based on the combination of frequency of consumption and sodium content itself:

1. Meat Pizza
2. White Bread
3. Processed Cheese
4. Hot Dogs
5. Spaghetti w/sauce
6. Ham
7. Catsup
8. Cooked rice
9. White roll
10. Flour (wheat) tortilla
11. Salty snacks/corn chips
12. Whole milk
13. Cheese pizza
14. Noodle soups
15. Eggs (whole/fried/scrambled)
16. Macaroni w/cheese
17. Milk, 2%
18. French fries
19. Creamy salad dressings
20. Potato chips

Pizza, Fries, Chips all have a place in the list. Understood, they’re loaded.

But why milk? While a glass of whole milk has only 125mg (5% of the daily limit) of sodium, it is consumed so frequently that the small amount adds up to bring this basic staple to a dubious 12th place.

Seems strange. Is the GMA, by sharing this list with us consumers, trying to hint that sodium is everywhere, including unprocessed foods, and thus blur the clear difference between processed products with over 1000mg of sodium per serving (pepperoni pizza) and staples with low amount of naturally occuring sodium (eggs with 65mg)?

What you need to know:

The recommended daily intake for sodium is 2300mg  (salt is 40% sodium, 60% chloride). This is equivalent to a teaspoonful of salt. Most Americans consume far more than that, even twice as much.

Too much salt raises blood pressure and leads to heart ailments. Estimates are that 150,000 deaths a year are the result. For consumers, it’s hard to reduce sodium intake because 75% of it comes from packaged foods and fast food meals. Less than 10% occurs naturally in a food.

It’s not easy to make a canned and processed food taste good. Salt was a perfect solution until the health risks of over-consumption were discovered. Happily, the food industry is making some progress in reformulating canned soups, snacks, and other items, and the GMA report praises them for that.  We still have a long way to go though.

What to do at the supermarket:

Don’t worry about the sodium in eggs, milk, or rice. If you do most of your own cooking from basic unprocessed staples, you’re most likely below the 2300mg limit. If you are buying processed foods from the middle aisles at the grocery store, look for lower sodium options in the bread aisle, canned soups, chips and popcorn, and babyfood. If you see a product with more than 600mg (25% DV) per serving, that’s a lot. Steer away.

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  • TwinToddlersDad

    I read the GMA report and found it very confusing. Further, it did not contain specific details on what product innovations are leading to reduced salt in processed foods.

    An interesting piece of data was in Table 2, France has the highest guideline for salt, 3200 mg/day while Finland has the lowest 1200-2000 mg. The message here seems to be that the 2300 mg limit in the US is very low and even a developed country like France allows a higher level.

    Limiting salt in your diet is a good idea – period. If we reduce our dependence on processed foods and increase the intake of home-cooked food from natural ingredients, this would not be a problem.

  • Easy Diets

    thanks for the head sup. This is going to be huge.

  • Cart5656

    Good list of food to avoid;will make the adjustment an easy process.