Surprise! These Foods Are Sneaky-High in Sodium

by Laurel Leicht Health Writer

Your body needs some sodium, but it’s easy to overdo it—especially if you’re trying to manage high blood pressure. What’s the right amount? Below 2,300 mg a day for the average adult, or under 1,500 mg if you have hypertension. Everyone is different though, so discuss your diet with your doctor, advises Sara Haas, R.D., a nutritionist and chef in Chicago. Some foods are obvious—soy sauce, salted fries, canned soup—but others are sneaky. Check out these surprising sodium offenders, along with tips to sidestep them without feeling deprived.

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Salad Dressing

Bottled salad dressing can pack as much as 200 mg to 300 mg per serving—and a serving is two tablespoons. “On a big salad, you use more than that,” says Jen Bruning, R.D., a nutritionist and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Chicago. Switch to sprinkling oil and vinegar over it instead. If you really can’t give up the flavor of your go-to-dressing, use less of it and supplement with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Same taste, less salt!

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Dinner Rolls...

Most bread served with dinner doesn’t taste salty, but don’t let that fool you. While the sodium content can vary from one roll to the next, it’s often higher than you think. For example, a whole wheat dinner roll can be over 400 mg. Add a pat of butter and you’re looking at more than 500 mg of sodium, just for a dinner sideshow. Opt for low-sodium rolls instead, and choose whole-grain over white, says Haas, so you get the benefits of fiber vitamins, and minerals.

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...and Sandwich Bread

Did you know that a slice of whole wheat bread can have more than 200 mg of sodium? Rye bread is often even higher. In both cases, a low-sodium version can cut the salt in half. Another option (not limited to Reubens): Eat an open-face sandwich so you’re only scarfing one slice. And keep an eye on the condiments, which can quickly pile on the salt. Instead of dressing or mayo, choose vinegar or mustard.

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Deli Meat

Speaking of sandwiches, it’s not just the slices of bread you need to keep an eye on. What you put between them matters too, especially deli meats, which are frequently loaded with extra salt. An Italian sub can be packed with upwards of 1,700 mg of sodium—over the daily allotment for someone with high blood pressure. Meanwhile, an open-face grilled-veggie sandwich that’s light on condiments will clock in around 400 mg max. So, you know, make the smart choice.

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Fast Food Anything

You probably know that drive-thru lunches are not your friends when it comes to calories and fat content. You can add sodium to that list as well; restaurants use a lot of it because it's an easy way to add flavor. If you’re set on the drive-thru, check your meal online before you go: Most restaurants list nutrition info, so you can see which options are least offensive in the sodium department, Bruning advises. No matter what, lay off the mayo, which adds 90 mg of sodium in just a tablespoon.

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Cereal

Think you’re picking a healthy variety? The cereal aisle holds loads of surprises when it comes to sodium—options that include nutritious ingredients like whole grains may also contain high amounts of salt. Wheat Chex, for one, has more than 500 mg per cup. There are low-sodium choices, like shredded wheat, so always look at labels. Or opt for oatmeal—the traditional, steel-cut variety, not the instant, flavored packs. Add fresh fruit as a topping.

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Cookies

Weird, we know, but sweet treats pack sodium, too. Most cookie recipes include some amount of salt, and packaged varieties tend to have more. “The sodium in cookies may not be sky-high—some stay in the range of 100 or so mg per serving—but you need to consider it when figuring out your daily total,” says Bruning. If you’re baking them yourself, definitely stick to unsalted butter. You can also nix salt from your cookie recipes entirely; bet you’ll barely notice.

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Hot Sauce

If you like your food spicy, know this: The sodium in hot sauce ticks up quickly. Most sauces hover around 100 to 200 mg per serving, and that serving is often only a teaspoon. Particularly if you’re using the stuff as a dip for chips, veggies, and wings, you’re better off picking a sauce with a lower sodium count and a more generous serving size, says Bruning. Your snacks will still taste great!

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Ice Cream

When it comes to America's favorite summertime treat, it can go either way. A scoop of creamy vanilla goodness clocks in around just 50 mg—not so bad, all things considered. But things get a little more complicated once you leave the world of classic vanilla or chocolate, and head into the land of flavors containing nuts, peanut butter, or cookie dough. Once you add toppings, you could push the total sodium count over 300 mg easily. Always check labels when picking your pint, says Bruning, and stick to half a cup.

Laurel Leicht
Meet Our Writer
Laurel Leicht

Laurel Leicht is a writer and editor in Brooklyn specializing in health, fitness, lifestyle, and travel. Her work has appeared in outlets including O the Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, and Well+Good.