13 Foods With Way More Sodium Than You Realized

We all know potato chips and processed meats are loaded with sodium. But what about seemingly healthy options like breakfast cereal or veggie burgers? You might be surprised to learn that many everyday foods sneak in way more sodium than you realize.

Sodium, a mineral found in table salt, is essential for our bodies to function properly. It helps regulate fluids in the body, transmit nerve impulses, and maintain muscle function. However, consuming too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg), ideally less for certain individuals, such as those with high blood pressure or a family history of the condition.

Let’s delve into 13 unsuspecting culprits that can easily push your sodium intake over the edge:

1.Salad Dressings: A Hidden Danger Lurking in Your Greens

Salad dressings might seem like a healthy way to add flavor to your leafy greens, but many store-bought varieties are loaded with sodium.  Two tablespoons of certain Caesar or creamy ranch dressings can contain over 300mg of sodium, which is a whopping 13% of your daily recommended limit!  This can quickly turn a healthy salad into a sodium bomb.

Healthier Alternatives:

  • Opt for low-sodium or fat-free dressings. These varieties often use less salt and may have reduced fat content.
  • Embrace homemade dressings. With a little creativity, you can whip up delicious and healthy dressings using olive oil, vinegar, herbs, spices, and a touch of honey or mustard for sweetness.
  • Experiment with citrus. A squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice can add a refreshing and flavorful twist to your salad without added sodium.

2. Canned Vegetables: Convenience with a Sodium Price Tag

Canned vegetables offer convenience, especially when fresh produce isn’t readily available. However, the canning process often involves adding sodium as a preservative. This helps extend shelf life but can significantly increase the sodium content of the vegetables.

Tips for Reducing Sodium in Canned Vegetables:

  • Drain and rinse canned veggies thoroughly before consuming. This simple step can help remove some of the excess sodium.
  • Look for “no salt added” options whenever possible. These varieties are packed without any added sodium, allowing you to control the seasoning at home.
  • Rinse or soak canned vegetables before adding them to soups or stews. This can further help reduce the sodium content without sacrificing flavor.

3. Instant Oatmeal: A Not-So-Instant Hit on Your Sodium Levels

Quick and easy breakfasts like instant oatmeal can be a lifesaver on busy mornings. However, some instant oatmeal packets are surprisingly high in sodium. The instant preparation process often involves adding sodium to enhance flavor and extend shelf life.

Choosing a Healthier Instant Oatmeal Option:

  • Check the nutrition label before buying. Compare the sodium content of different brands and varieties.
  • Opt for plain instant oatmeal packets with lower sodium content. You can add your own sweetness and flavor with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, or a drizzle of honey.
  • Consider steel-cut oats instead. While they require longer cooking time, steel-cut oats are a whole-grain option naturally lower in sodium and higher in fiber.

4. Sports Drinks: Replenishing Electrolytes, But Watch Out for Sodium

While sports drinks can help replenish electrolytes lost during exercise, they often contain significant amounts of sodium. Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, and chloride that help regulate fluids in the body and are essential for proper nerve and muscle function.

When to Choose Sports Drinks vs. Water:

If you’re sweating moderately during exercise lasting less than an hour, plain water might be sufficient to replenish fluids.

For intense workouts lasting longer than an hour, consider low-sodium sports drinks or homemade electrolyte solutions. These options can help replace electrolytes without the high sodium content of traditional sports drinks.

Consult a doctor or registered dietitian for personalized guidance on hydration needs during exercise, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

5. Cottage Cheese: A Protein Powerhouse with a Sodium Punch

Cottage cheese is a protein powerhouse, boasting a high amount of protein per serving. This makes it a popular choice for breakfast, snacks, and post-workout meals. However, some varieties of cottage cheese can be surprisingly high in sodium.

Finding Lower-Sodium Cottage Cheese Options:

  • A single cup of regular cottage cheese can contain nearly 1,000mg of sodium, which is almost half your daily recommended intake! Opt for low-sodium or “no salt added” cottage cheese varieties. These options offer the same protein benefits with significantly less sodium.
  • If you prefer regular cottage cheese, consider rinsing it with water before consuming. This simple step can help remove some of the sodium content without affecting the taste or texture too much.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes. While cottage cheese is a healthy food, consuming large portions can contribute to exceeding your daily sodium limit.

6. Deli Meat: A Lunchtime Staple with Hidden Sodium

Lunchtime staples like deli meat are notorious for being high in sodium. Sliced meats like ham, turkey, and salami often undergo a curing process that involves adding salt for preservation and flavor enhancement. This curing process contributes significantly to the high sodium content of deli meats.

Reducing Sodium in Your Deli Meat Choices:

  • Limit your intake of deli meats. Opt for alternative protein sources like grilled chicken or fish more frequently.
  • When choosing deli meats, select lean options with lower sodium content. Look for brands that advertise “reduced sodium” or “low sodium” varieties.
  • Consider purchasing whole cuts of meat and slicing them at home. This allows you to control the seasoning and avoid the added sodium found in pre-sliced deli meats.

7. Soup: A Comforting Choice, But Watch the Sodium Content

Soup can be a comforting and nutritious meal, especially during colder months. However, canned soups can be loaded with sodium. A single can of condensed soup can easily contain 400mg or more of sodium, exceeding a significant portion of your daily recommended intake.

Choosing Healthier Soup Options:

  • Look for low-sodium varieties of canned soup. Many brands offer reduced-sodium versions of popular soup flavors.
  • Prepare homemade soups from scratch. This allows you to control the ingredients and adjust the sodium content to your liking. Use low-sodium broths and add your own herbs and spices for flavor.
  • If using canned soup, consider adding water or low-sodium broth to the can before heating. This helps dilute the sodium content without compromising the overall flavor.

8. Frozen Pizzas: Convenience with a Salty Downside

Frozen pizzas offer a convenient dinner option, especially on busy weeknights. However, the convenience often comes with a hefty dose of sodium. The combination of processed cheese, cured meats like pepperoni, and dough can make frozen pizzas a sodium nightmare.

Finding Healthier Frozen Pizza Options:

  • Look for “reduced sodium” frozen pizzas. While these might not be entirely sodium-free, they offer a lower sodium content compared to traditional frozen pizzas.
  • Make your own pizza at home using lower-sodium ingredients. This allows you to control the amount of cheese, meats, and sauce, customizing your pizza for both taste and sodium content. Opt for whole-wheat pizza dough for added fiber, and choose lean protein toppings like grilled chicken or turkey.
  • If enjoying a frozen pizza, limit your portion size. Splitting a frozen pizza between two people can help keep your sodium intake in check.

9. Pickles: A Tangy Treat High in Sodium

Pickles are a tangy and crunchy snack, often enjoyed alongside sandwiches or burgers. They can also be a refreshing side dish. However, pickles are also packed with sodium. The pickling process involves brining vegetables in a salt solution, which infuses them with flavor but also adds significant sodium.

Enjoying Pickles in Moderation:

Limit your intake of pickles. While they can be a tasty occasional treat, consuming them daily can quickly contribute to exceeding your sodium limit.

Consider rinsing pickles before consuming. This simple step can help remove some of the excess sodium content without affecting the overall flavor too much.

Look for lower-sodium pickle varieties. Some brands offer pickles made with less salt, allowing you to enjoy the taste without the high sodium content.

10. Restaurant Meals: Dining Out Can Mean High Sodium Intake

Eating out frequently can make it challenging to control your sodium intake. Restaurant meals are often prepared with liberal amounts of salt to enhance flavor and cater to general preferences. This can lead to unknowingly consuming a significant amount of sodium in a single meal.

Tips for Managing Sodium When Dining Out:

  • Opt for grilled or baked dishes instead of fried options. Fried foods often contain added sodium in the batter or breading.
  • Ask your server about low-sodium options on the menu. Many restaurants offer dishes specifically prepared with lower sodium content.
  • Be mindful of adding extra salt at the table. Avoid adding salt to your food before tasting it. You might find the dish flavorful enough without additional seasoning.
  • Request sauces and dressings on the side. This allows you to control the amount you add to your food, helping to manage your sodium intake.

11. Breakfast Cereal: A Sugary Surprise with Added Sodium

Breakfast cereals marketed towards children are often loaded with sugar. However, many breakfast cereals, even seemingly healthy options, can also be surprisingly high in sodium. This added sodium can come from various sources, including preservatives, flavorings, and even the cereal grains themselves.

Choosing Lower-Sodium Breakfast Cereals:

  • Check the nutrition label before buying. Pay attention to the sodium content per serving.
  • Opt for whole-grain cereals with lower sodium content. These cereals are typically less processed and contain less added sodium.
  • Limit sugary cereals. While sugar might be the first thing you notice on the nutrition label, don’t overlook the sodium content as well.
  • Consider adding your own sweetness and flavor to plain cereals. Fresh fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of honey can add natural sweetness and flavor without the added sodium of sugary cereals.

12. Seasoning Blends: A Flavorful Trap

Seasoning blends can be a convenient way to add flavor to your cooking. However, many pre-made seasoning blends contain a significant amount of sodium. This is often because salt is a cheap and effective way to enhance flavor.

Reducing Sodium with Seasoning Blends:

  • Read the ingredients list on seasoning blends before buying. Look for blends with lower sodium content or those that list salt further down the list, indicating a smaller amount used.
  • Make your own seasoning blends. This allows you to control the ingredients and adjust the amount of salt used. Experiment with herbs, spices, and other flavorings to create your own unique blends.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices whenever possible. Fresh herbs and spices offer a burst of flavor without the added sodium of pre-made blends.

13. Flavored Yogurts: A Sweet and Salty Treat

Yogurt can be a healthy and protein-rich snack. However, flavored yogurts, particularly those marketed towards children, are often loaded with sugar and surprisingly high in sodium. The added sugar and sodium can negate the health benefits of plain yogurt.

Choosing Healthier Yogurt Options:

  • Opt for plain yogurt. Plain yogurt offers a blank canvas for adding your own healthy sweetness and flavor. Top your yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, or a drizzle of honey for a delicious and nutritious snack.
  • If choosing flavored yogurt, compare the sodium content of different brands and varieties. Opt for options with lower sodium content.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes. Even healthy yogurts can contribute to exceeding your daily sodium limit if consumed in large quantities.


By being aware of these hidden sources of sodium and making smart choices, you can easily control your sodium intake and maintain a healthy diet. Remember, small changes can make a big difference.

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