Salt Alert – The Hidden Sodium in Food

Posted by on Jul 16, 2017 in Frugal For Everyone | 25 comments


Condiments High in Sodium Content

It’s a well-known fact that too much sodium causes high blood pressure which in turn increases risk of heart attack or stroke. What’s not quite as well known is that it can also lead to kidney problems, dementia and cognitive impairment.

The ideal daily sodium intake for an adult is 1500mg – less than 2/3 tsp. – per day, exceeding no more than 2300mg – 1 tsp. – per day. However, the average daily consumption is more than 3000mg a day, more than double the ideal of 1500mg.

We can stop adding salt to our foods and while that would help, it isn’t the main problem as this added salt is only about 10% of our daily intake. The real problem is with the hidden sodium in food which contributes 75-80% to our daily intake. 

I checked some common foods and was surprised (and appalled) by the sodium content in some of these everyday products. Check out the corn flakes, the sandwiches, the Tim Horton’s Chickens Caesar Wrap or the so-called diet foods below. Pretty scary, right?

Kellog’s Corn Flakes 729mg per 1/2 cup serving
Kellogs Shredded Wheat 70mg per serving
Roger’s Porridge Oats 0mg per serving
Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Flavoured +/- 200mg/packet depending on flavour
Greek Yogurt, non-fat 118mg per one 8 oz  (227g) container
Cottage Cheese 411mg per 1/2 cup
Milk 88mg per 1 cup
Soy Milk 124mg per 1 cup
Almond Milk 180mg per 1 cup
Ham and cheese sandwich made with 2 slices whole wheat bread 1401mg to 1681mg
Tuna sandwich made with mayo on two slices of whole wheat bread 870mg
Aylmer Tomato Soup less sodium 570mg per 1 cup reconstituted
Homemade Tomato soup less sodium 250mg per 1 cup serving
Lipton Onion Soup Mix
610mg per serving (7g)
McDonalds Big Mac 950mg each
McDonalds Caesar Salad 1070mg each
Tim Horton’s Chicken Caesar Wrap 1532mg – that’s your total daily allowance
Tim Horton’s BELT (Breakfast Bagel) 1040mg each
Mr. Christie Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies 140mg per 2 cookies
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy 870mg per serving
Lean Cuisine Baked Chicken 600mg per serving
Lean Cuisine Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes 520mg per serving
Weight Watchers Ham and Cheese Scramble 520mg per serving
Weight Watchers Homestyle Beef Pot Roast 690mg per serving
Salmon, Fresh (not farm raised) 59mg per 100g (3 1/2 oz.)
Salmon, Canned 900mg per can
Peas, Frozen or Canned 222mg per 1 cup
Peas, Fresh 7mg per cup
Homemade Apple Pie 128mg per slice
Homemade Apple Crisp 0mg

We do have choices once we know what the sodium content of the food is. The best way to control our sodium intake is:

  • Stop buying processed foods and prepare our own – purchased sauces, mixes and instant foods generally contain huge amounts of sodium (and often are expensive and don’t save much time);
  • Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt – buy garlic and onion powders rather than the flavoured salts and use unsalted butter;
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (without the sauce) – season with herbs and spices;
  • Check the nutrition labels more often and know what the labels mean;
  • Don’t buy packaged meat that doesn’t show the amount of sodium – many meats are injected with a saline solution or salt water to ‘enhance’ the meat but actually only adds weight and sodium;
  • Buy low-sodium canned products and if possible rinse the contents thoroughly before using;
  • Avoid MSG, bouillon cubes, dry soup mixes, and condiments. They’re all high in sodium;
  • When eating out, ask for sodium free or low-sodium foods. Don’t assume that the healthier sounding food in restaurants really is healthier (who would think that a Big Mac has less sodium than a Caesar salad?).

The different salts don’t really make much difference sodium wise. They all contain about the same level of sodium chloride. The difference is in the processing. Table salt is the most processed and contains additives – fluoride and anti-caking agents – but also has added iodine which is important for thyroid health. Kosher Salt and Sea Salt are less processed, may contain trace minerals and have no additives, although some Sea Salts do have iodine added.

Know what the food labels mean:

  • Low-sodium: food contains 140mg or less sodium per serving;
  • Very low sodium: food contains 35mg or less per serving;
  • Reduced sodium: food has 25% less sodium than a comparable product or their regular version;
  • Light sodium: food has 50% less sodium than a comparable product or their regular version;
  • Sodium free: less than 5mg per serving.

When one item is reduced or removed from a product it needs to be replaced by something else. Potassium is used most often as a sodium replacement and while this is perfectly safe for most of the population for a small group this may not be true. People with diabetes, kidney disease or adrenal insufficiency may have increased risk of too much potassium in their blood which can be dangerous. But that’s a whole other story and possibly material for another post. Foods have warning labels about nut allergens; shouldn’t they also have warning labels about high sodium or potassium content?

Talk to you again soon,


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  1. I just checked the “Nutrition Facts” panel on a box of Quaker Raisins & Spice Instant Oatmeal: two packets (I never have just one) contain 420mg of sodium! Maybe I should have some homemade apple crisp for breakfast tomorrow instead. 🙂

    • Andy, isn’t that wild? Who would think that something we think of as healthy has that much sodium and why?I used to make Instant Oatmeal for our boys when they were young and never added salt – mostly just brown sugar and cinnamon.That’s where the problem comes in, it’s sneaky – we avoid potato chips because we know they are loaded with salt but instant oatmeal and yogurt? I make both and definitely don’t add salt.
      Enjoy your apple crisp tomorrow haha.

  2. Great post.
    I am surprised and horrified, about what they add and put into food. Now, it is not even added, they genetically alter food (like corn today making it have more sugar).
    It seems almost impossible to get away from salt, I know I try, but it is saturated in everything.
    Thanks for the tips, I will try to help me avoid salt.

  3. Wow! What an eye-opener! I’m really curious about how high in sodium both tuna and salmon are. This may be a silly question, but does it make any difference if it’s packed in oil or water? Hum, I’ll have to check the next time I go shopping. Thanks for this valuable information and the important reminder to read the labels.

    • Marquita, if makes no difference if it’s packed in oil or water – the sodium content is the same and way to high. I love tuna on rye or salmon anytime but no longer buy them. Makes it hard to make a sandwich.

  4. Excellent investigation you have done about sodium, Lenie. Since it contains jod it’s not the end of the world when you have thyroid problems and don’t put on weight. But then again I hardly ever eat processed food. Sugar on the other hand doesn’t go well with the thyroid.

    • Catarina, I know it’s impossible today to keep children away from processed food entirely but I wonder what would happen if one child, right from birth, was never given any processed foods, trans fat or sugar? Wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment?

  5. What an eye opener- thank you for sharing Lenie.

    Though too much salt is unhealthy, small doses is fine. I do not use salt when cooking as the seasoning I use is salty enough. I use garlic powder, chicken seasoning, all purpose, jerk seasoning, fish powder, curry powder- obviously not all at the same time.

    We should avoid processed foods and check the ingredients before purchasing.

    • Phoenicia, you’re right about needing to avoid processed foods. If the WHO was really serious about cutting back on sodium they would come up with a list of healthy alternatives but that would negatively impact a lot of businesses and jobs.

  6. I always check the nutritional information of a product however admittedly I hardly look at sodium and moreso just protein, fat, carbs and sugar. Though I have stopped adding salt to my food, I am more of a pepper girl anyway.

    • Emily, you’re not alone at checking the protein, fat, carbs and sugar. There is great media focus on these ingredients (and rightly so) but sodium is often ignored even though there are now children with high blood pressure. I’d say that is a warning sign to also take sodium seriously.

  7. Over the years, I’ve been gradually cutting processed foods out of my life. My next step is getting read of lunch meat. That’s a big one, and I’m looking into alternatives for sandwich fillings. I am drawn to salty foods over sweet, but with my blood work being done all the time, I know my levels are fine. The one food that will be really hard for me to quit is canned soup, but the amount of sodium in it is outrageous, so it’s on my list as well. I’m going to need to get good at cooking big batches of the kinds I enjoy and freezing it for later use.

    • Jeri, you have been making bone marrow broth so why not add some vegies to it while it’s simmering? That would give taste to the broth and replace the canned soup. Hope you’re doing well – think of you often.

  8. Oh dear. I just ate a bunch of Tostitos tortilla chips. I don’t dare go look at the package for the amount of added salt. Towards the end of my father’s life, he was in renal failure and we had to try to severely control the salt in his diet. It was very difficult and he found everything tasteless as he had a heavy hand with the salt shaker his entire life.

    • Suzanne, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. It truly is difficult to cut back on salt once we’ve become used to it. The unfortunate thing is that salt is an acquired taste – think about baby food, it comes with no salt. But even if we never added salt to our food we would still get hooked by the salt in the food we buy, just look at corn flakes, a food we all loved growing up and which contains about 1/2 our ideal salt intake.

  9. Thx for this terrific post, Lenie. I truly am surprised about the Chicken Caesar wrap, and also about the canned salmon. I do try to look for low to reduced sodium on everything we buy and am shocked that some of the companies get away with putting their unhealthy products on the shelf!

    • Doreen, the WHO is aware of the danger of hidden salt and have told manufacturers to cut back on the sodium content. But not much has changed other than we now have the labels. Problem is how many people pay attention to that or even know the daily limit? And then to substitute it with potassium chloride without making the consumer aware of it is reckless as far as I’m concerned. BTW, do you know your daily maximum potassium intake? (4700mg for a adult)

  10. Thanks Lenie for this reminder especially that picture of the condiments. I switched over a couple of years ago to a real food diet. Giving up majority of what comes in a package and doing my own baking for sweet treats. Since I am not an avid baker that works out so we don’t have too much now with sugar as well. I do use a lot of ketchup to make homemade bbq sauce. Not too much is used at a time of course but it is still some. I did make my own ketchup one time but since it was made with tomato paste it still isn’t low sodium. Would you happen to have any recipes or ideas? I only use it for the bbq sauce and not as a condiment on it’s own. I did switch over to French’s when I learned that Heinz was so low on tomato product it can only be labelled “ketchup style” or some such silly name. Also French’s ketchup is made in Ontario which is another plus for it.

    • Sharon, this is a good time to think about making ketchup because in another month or so the tomatoes will be ready at farm markets. Get the ripest best tasting tomatoes to first make the tomato paste. Here’s a link to looks like a great recipe for tomato paste but leave out the salt completely and use 1 Tsp. of lemon juice or vinegar in place of the ½ Tsp. citric acid. If you like garlic try adding a clove to replace the salt. Then you can either use your own ketchup recipe using the tomato paste or go to this link:—homemade-condiments and try it.

      Let me know how it turns out.

      • Thank you so much Lenie for these links. Just had a chance to look at them and they seem very doable. Great idea for all the tomatoes that are growing in my garden. Just after buying tomato plants I received more from a friend who has a greenhouse. I was wondering what I was going to do with so many tomatoes. Now I just need to make some room in my freezer. I will let you know how it turns out. The ketchup recipe is similar to the one I used except the fruit juice is a different idea. I was truly amazed how easy it was to make ketchup when it’s just been so normal to buy it ready made all these years.

        • Sharon, I’m jealous of you having tomatoes in your garden. We no longer garden to that extent or do any of those fun practical things like making ketchup or relish (or maple syrup). Good luck to you.

  11. I suspect a lot of those processed and packaged foods on your list use so much salt because they would otherwise be desperate for some flavor. It’s a substitute for not using better ingredients.

    • Ken, you said it right. That’s also why they inject meat with a saline solution – now doesn’t it make you wonder how they raise those poor animals that the meat ends up tasteless? Or lower the sodium content only to increase the potassium content which also adds taste to otherwise bland foods? Makes a good case for taking the time to buy organic and cook your own foods.

  12. Aw salt, I do love it but I do realize the dangers of over do it. Knowing where extra salt is hidden helps. Thanks for the reminder my friend.

    • Susan, what I tried to do with my list was to show that there were choices. As I mentioned if the only salt we use is what we add to our foods it’s not a problem – it’s only the prepared stuff and meats you buy that you really need to check.

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