I’m not a doctor or a dietician. But I do know that there’s a lot of talk about how Americans (and perhaps others) eat too much salt and that our love of salt is bad for us. Excessive salt intake contributes to high blood pressure, a major risk factor in heart attacks and strokes. I’m trying to become more conscious about what I eat, so I decided to do a bit of research. By the way, the chemical that is the component we’re talking about is sodium. It is measured in milligrams, abbreviated as mg.
How much sodium is it OK to eat on a daily basis?
The current (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. One teaspoon of salt has 2,345 mg of sodium, so the upper limit of recommended intake is the equivalent of eating about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Almost half the adult U.S. population (all adults over 51 years, African Americans, and those with a history of hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease) should further limit intake to less than 1,500 mg per day.
How much sodium does the average American now consume?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average intake of sodium for all Americans over 2 years old is 3,436 mg per day, almost 50% more than the recommended limit.
There is salt in many foods that do not taste salty.
Salt is a crucial ingredient (in terms of taste) in most baked goods. If you doubt this, try Tuscan style bread, which does not contain salt, and compare it to another type of bread. Or bake 2 batches of cookies – one with the salt specified in the recipe and 1 without the salt.
Sodium is natural in many foods, even raw, unprepared foods. For example there are 55 mg of sodium in a raw egg white and 24 mg in a cup of raw spinach.
Sodium Content Varies in Similar Foods
Take candy for example - and don't get all high-and-mighty about how candy isn't really food. A fun size Nestle Butterfinger candy bar has 16 mg of sodium and a 1.5 ounce Kit Kat bar has 23 mg. By contrast, a fun size Snickers has 35 mg and a full size (2 ounce) Snickers bar has 140 mg of sodium. (I love all these candy bars. If you think such information will stop me from hiding a bag of frozen Snickers in my freezer every once in awhile, you don’t know me very well. But maybe I’ll eat fewer of them at a sitting, knowing this.)
Fast Food Sodium Facts
- McDonald’s – A Quarter Pounder with Cheese has 1,190 mg of sodium while a Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich has 820 mg. A Premium Caesar Salad without chicken has only 180 mg of sodium, but with grilled chicken it goes up to 580 mg, without dressing. A packet of low fat balsamic dressing adds another 420 mg, while the Caesar dressing adds 500 mg.
- Applebee’s – A bowl of Applebee's tomato basil soup has only 260 calories, but 1,440 mg of sodium. Under its “Weight Watchers and Unbelievably Great Tasting & Under 500 Calories – includes sides” menu, the sizzling Asian broccoli has only 470 calories but 3,180 mg of sodium. That low calorie meal over 33% more sodium than anyone should take in during an entire day.
- Chopt’d – The roast turkey Caesar salad has 1,690 mg of sodium, more than the entire recommended daily sodium intake for almost half the U.S. adult population. A cup of the vegan, dairy free, gluten free lentil soup has 640 mg of sodium.
There’s Sodium Aplenty in Sauces
- Soy Sauce – Kikkoman’s regular soy sauce has 920 mg per tablespoon, while the “less sodium” version of that brand has 575 mg per tablespoon. Trader Joe’s reduced sodium soy sauce has 460 mg per tablespoon. Keep in mind that most Asian dishes you might season with soy sauce at the table already contain soy sauce (and sodium), which was used as an ingredient during cooking.
- Ketchup – Heinz has many varieties and their sodium content varies (per tablespoon) from 5 mg for the “No Salt” version, to 160 mg for the regular version, to 190 mg for “organic” and Simpy Heinz, to 200 mg for the “hot & spicy” version.
- Enchilada sauce – There are 360 mg per ¼ cup of Old El Paso medium spice level sauce
- Pasta sauce – There are 460 mg of sodium in a ½ cup of Ragu “Garden Combination” sauce and 380 mg in ¼ cup of Buitoni refrigerated pesto sauce.
This information isn’t intended to scare, scold, or lecture. If you’re like me, you’ll still splurge on heavily buttered and salted popcorn or French fries or whatever floats your culinary comfort boat when the special occasion arises. But maybe all of us will think a little more about the salt in our food – and consume a little less of it on most days - after reading these facts.