Beyond the Saltshaker

Deadly excess salt comes from a wide variety of insidious sources! As I’m sure you now know, the salt you add at the table or during cooking is just the tip of the dangerous salt block. Only about 11% of the salt in the American diet comes from salt added at home. A whopping 77% comes from processed foods and restaurant foods (the remaining 12% occurs naturally in foods). Processed foods can contain 1000 mg or more of sodium per serving, and many typical restaurant meals contain 2300–4600 mg.1

Beyond fast food: It’s not just the usual fast food villains that are adding to the mounting excess sodium woes. Seemingly innocent, otherwise healthful foods can be part of the problem. One cup of commercially prepared vegetable broth can provide 940 mg of sodium, and one cup of canned beans can rack up 770 mg. Two tablespoons of Italian dressing on your salad adds 486 mg, and 1 cup of regular pasta sauce could include 1100 mg. (See chart for other foods and low-sodium

Not all brands the same: Sodium levels vary widely across brands for the same product. Some brands have 50–200% more sodium than their competitors. The “same” product marketed in different countries also will have different sodium levels. The U.S. version of Nabisco’s Premium Saltines has 40% more sodium per serving than its Canadian counterpart.2

Perfect for profit: Why are processed foods so loaded up with sodium? Salt heightens flavors, reduces bitterness, and enhances sweetness. Salt is perfect for processed foods. It is cheap. It keeps foods from becoming discolored, and it extends shelf life. It binds water and makes foods weigh more, so you pay more for a heavier package.3

What people want: When food companies do consumer research, they find that unless their food products are salty enough, people do not like the way they taste. As consumers have gotten used to higher and higher levels of salt in their foods, their taste buds have lost their ability to taste the subtle flavors found in natural foods. Once your ability to taste deteriorates to that point, all foods taste too bland unless they are highly salted. It is no wonder that a growing population whose taste buds are damaged demands foods that contain lots of salt.
1. Havas S, Dickinson B, Wilson M. “The Urgent Need to Reduce Sodium Consumption.” JAMA 2007;298(12):1439-1441.

2. Jacobson M. Salt: The Forgotton Killer. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Washington DC; 2005; p.8.

3. Nestle M. What to Eat. North Star Press: New York; 2006, p.365.
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