The main culprit of the high sodium American diet is processed foods. About 75% of the sodium in our diet is hidden sodium in processed foods. My husband and I had no idea how much sodium we were consuming and I don't think many Americans realize just what the food manufacturers are putting in the foods we eat.
First, let's look at the #1 source of sodium in our diet.
Would you be surprised if I told you that the #1 source of sodium in our diet is bread? Most breads are not high in sodium, but there is a lot of bread in the American diet and all those milligrams add up quickly.
Here's an example of how bread can add a lot of sodium to our diet:
Breakfast: Bagel approx. 400-500 mg of sodium
Lunch: Sandwich (2 slices of bread) approx. 200-300 mg of sodium
Dinner: Dinner roll with meal approx. 200-300 mg of sodium
Conservatively, that's 800 mg or 33% of the recommended daily intake of sodium just from bread. You can see how quickly the amount of sodium we eat can add up.
Let's look at another high sodium food that is common in the American diet:
A common meal in American homes is pasta. Pasta, in and of itself isn't bad, but in many cases, it's what we put on our food that is the problem. Prepared pasta sauce is very high in sodium.
Hunt's Traditional Pasta Sauce
Serving size: 1/2 cup
Sodium: 560 mg per serving
Compared to the recommended amount of less than 300 mg of sodium per serving, the 560 mg in just 1/2 cup is extremely high, but believe it or not, there are others that are even worse. Some pasta sauces contain over 600 mg of sodium per serving.
Seeing these numbers on the pasta sauce on my kitchen shelves was a real wake-up call for me. I made a pasta meal for my family at least once a week and I often purchased Hunt's Traditional Pasta Sauce. In one meal we were eating almost 1/4 (if not more) of our daily recommended sodium intake.
I have noticed more and more foods labeled as "heart healthy", but I've noticed that many times they still don't meet the recommendations for sodium intake. Prego has a Heart Smart pasta sauce and while it has significantly lower amounts of sodium per serving and is a much better option, it still doesn't meet the recommended amount of sodium per serving:
Prego Heart Smart Pasta Sauce
Serving size: 1/2 cup
Sodium: 360 mg per serving
What about a staple in many American homes with children: macaroni and cheese?
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Serving size: about 1 cup
Sodium: 570 mg per serving
My children can easily eat 1 cup or more at one meal. That's over 1/3 of a child's recommended daily sodium allowance in just one meal. Don't be fooled by the "healthier" versions that say they contain whole grains. Like many processed foods that are called "whole grain" they contain even more salt than the original versions.
Now that I've given you the bad news, I do have some good news! It is the amount of sodium that we eat over a long period of time that affects our health. If you have been eating a high sodium diet, you can make a change now and still make a difference!
There are some simple steps you can take to limit the amount of sodium in your diet:
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Look for "no salt" options when purchasing canned vegetables and be sure to check nutrition labels of dressings for raw vegetables and salads.
2. Look for a lower sodium brand. Check the nutrition labels on packaged foods; the amount of sodium in a certain product can vary a lot in different brands.
3. Make it from scratch. Instead of adding salt, use herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings to flavor food. Check back for some of our family's favorite heart healthy recipes!
Once you've reduced the sodium in your diet, eventually your taste buds will be able to tell you when foods are too salty and the less sodium you will want.
Top 10 Sources of Salt in Your Diet
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian and I don't have any letters after my name. I am a wife of a heart attack survivor who was surprised by the facts that I learned about heart disease and the American diet and want to share what I have learned with others. If you are under the care of a physician, please follow your doctor's recommendations.
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net