You may be surprised to learn how much sodium is in many foods. Sodium, including sodium chloride or salt, can come from natural sources or be added to foods. High-sodium diets are linked to increased blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that you aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
When you buy prepared and packaged foods, you can read the amount of sodium in the product per serving, in milligrams (mg), by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel. Read the Nutrition Facts panel for the overall nutrition information – including calorie, fat and sodium content – before you make food choices. Select and prepare foods with little or no salt.
Test your sodium smarts by answering the questions below about which food products are higher in sodium. Most examples use the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, which shows the average nutrient values of multiple commercially prepared food products of the same type. Sodium amounts can vary depending on the brand, which is why we are showing averages. We’ve chosen “regular” or “traditional” varieties of foods as examples to illustrate their high sodium content. When you shop, we recommend that you select sodium-free, low-sodium, or reduced-sodium foods whenever they are available to reduce your sodium consumption.
Choose the item you believe has more sodium.
1. Which food has more sodium?
a. Raisin bread (enriched) 1 large slice (32g)
b. French or Vienna bread (including sourdough) 1 small slice (32g)
2. Which food has more sodium?
a. American cheese (pasteurized process, low-fat) 1 slice (21g)
b. Swiss cheese (low-fat) 1 slice (28g)
3. Which food has more sodium?
a. Potato salad 1/3 cup (95g)
b. Mashed potatoes (fast-foods) 1/3 cup (80g)
4. Which food has more sodium?
a. Raisin bran flake cereal 1 cup (59g)
b. Raisin-cinnamon English muffin 1 (57g)
5. Which food has more sodium?
a. Potato chips (plain, salted) 1 ounce (28g)
b. Pretzels (hard, plain, salted) 1 ounce (28g)
6. Which food has more sodium?
a. Reduced-fat Italian dressing 2 tbsp (30g)
b. Reduced-fat ranch dressing 2 tbsp (30g)
7. Which food has more sodium?
a. Ham (sliced, regular) 2 slices (56g)
b. Turkey breast (oven roasted) 2 slices (56g)
8. Which food has more sodium?
a. Pasta sauce (spaghetti/marinara) 1⁄2 cup (128g)
b. Pasta sauce (Alfredo) 1⁄2 cup (124g)
9. Which food has more sodium?
a. Tomato soup (ready-to-serve) 1 cup (245g)
b. Chicken noodle soup (ready-to-serve) 1 cup (245g)
10. Which food has more sodium?
a. Soy sauce 1 tbsp (18g)
b. Teriyaki sauce 1 tbsp (18g)
Source: The American Heart Association, Nutrition Center
Sodium Smarts Quiz (Answer Key)
1. b. 1 small slice of French bread has more sodium. No matter how you slice it, bread is one of the most common sources of sodium. Sodium is added to bread to help with the texture and rising action of the dough. The amount of sodium differs by bread type and can add up quickly when you eat more than one slice. (Raisin bread – 125 mg & French or Vienna bread – 208 mg)
2. a. 1 slice of American cheese has more sodium. American cheese is a highly processed “cheese-like” product. Highly processed foods tend to be high in sodium because food manufacturers use salt or other sodium-containing compounds to preserve food and to improve their taste and texture. (American cheese – 300mg & Swiss cheese – 73mg)
3. a. 1/3 cup of potato salad has more sodium. Salt is often added to commercially prepared (e.g., store-bought) potato salad for taste. You can make potato salad with a low-sodium recipe that uses herbs and spices. (Potato salad – 312mg & Mashed potatoes (fast-foods) – 182mg)
4. a. 1 cup of raisin bran cereal has more sodium. Since raisin bran tastes “sweet,” it may come as a surprise as to how much sodium can be in commercial breakfast cereals. Salt is added to sweet foods in processing to enhance their flavor, so even sweet-tasting cereals like raisin bran can have lots of sodium. (Raisin bran flake cereal – 342mg & Raisin-cinnamon English muffin – 189mg)
5. b. 1 ounce (28g) of hard pretzels has more sodium. Don’t get the facts twisted – Hard pretzels can have more sodium for the same total weight than potato chips, because salt is added to hard pretzels for texture, not just for taste. For potato chips, salt is added at the end of food processing and applied on the surface to enhance the flavor. To limit your sodium consumption, buy unsalted potato chips and pretzels. But remember that unsalted potato chips have virtually no sodium, while unsalted pretzels can pack 82 mg per ounce. (Potato chips – 149mg & Pretzels – 385mg)
6. a. 2 tablespoons of Italian salad dressing has more sodium. Prepared salad dressings can be high in sodium, depending on the dressing type, other ingredients and taste preference. Be sure to select low-sodium salad dressings or use a low-sodium recipe to whip up a salad dressing at home. (Reduced-fat Italian salad dressing – 410mg & Reduced-fat ranch salad dressing – 273mg)
7. a. 2 slices of regular ham has more sodium. Sodium in processed meats like ham, bacon and hot dogs can come from salt added for taste and sodium-containing ingredients used as preservatives to enhance the color or retain moisture. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit the consumption of processed meats to no more than two servings a week. (Ham – 730mg & Turkey breast – 540mg)
8. b. 1⁄2 cup of Alfredo pasta sauce has more sodium. Alfredo sauce has more sodium, calories and fats than spaghetti/marinara sauce. Prepared pasta sauces are traditionally very high in sodium, although the sodium content can vary greatly depending on the brand and flavor. Several food manufacturers have offered products with less sodium. (Pasta sauce – 525mg & Pasta sauce – 760mg)
9. b. 1 cup of chicken noodle soup has more sodium. Salt may be more necessary to provide taste for traditional canned chicken noodle soup than tomato soup, but here is the scoop on soup: All canned varieties can have high amounts of sodium. In recent years, tasty soups with less sodium have become available – pick these whenever you can. (Tomato soup – 789mg & Chicken noodle soup – 840mg)
10. a. 1 tbsp of soy sauce has more sodium. Not surprised? The big surprise may be how high in sodium both soy sauce and teriyaki sauce can be. The 1,006 mg of sodium per 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of soy sauce is almost equivalent to that contained in 1⁄2 teaspoon (tsp) of salt (1,150 mg). Choose low-sodium or light soy sauce at grocery stores and restaurants. (Soy sauce – 1006mg & Teriyaki sauce – 690mg)