Sodium is sneaky, it finds its’ way into all sorts of unwanted places. When high sodium foods inadvertently creep their way onto our plates, they can quickly offset an entire day’s worth of low sodium efforts. Additionally, some things that we [used to] love to eat are just plain loaded with salt — at our house, we call these sneaky high sodium bandits “sodium elephants”.
More often than not, sodium elephants disguise themselves in pretty packages. They find hiding spots in our drawers, cupboards, and purses. Sometimes, they’re completely overt - like a cheesy all meat/sausage pizza.
We’ve attached our personal list of high sodium foods based on where our own sodium elephants have tended to “hide”; if we’ve missed things, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Our high sodium foods [watch] list parallels our daily routine, according to how our typical day might unfold – so that we can figure out where our pitfalls might lie. The second column notes things we’ve learned, tips on how we’ve made small changes to adapt to our low sodium lifestyle.
I think there’s benefit to seeing what’s on someone else’s high sodium foods list – sometimes it’s more encouraging to see how other people are able to adapt (or where they’ve tanked out). And for some, it may be easier to understand what types of foods are potentially high sodium bandits, rather than starting from scratch and making a short list of low sodium foods that fall into range: there are two sides to every coin.
PS – the elephant conservation picture comes from one of our many adventures…
Our Personal List of High Sodium Foods
|Category||Here’s How We Approach It|
|Prescription Drugs & the Medicine Cabinet||When we’re in doubt, we ask our pharmacist.Sodium is a tricky thing, sometimes it can sneak up on us in the least likely of places — when we’re staring it in the face and when we’re not looking out for it: its’ easy to overlook pharmaceutical related sodium intake (both prescribed and over the counter) into our “integrated” care model.|
|Ready to Eat Cereals||We’ve been successful at finding lower sodium (yes, packaged) options, like muesli; or we make our own low-sodium granola.When we have a little more time, we opt for making steel cut oatmeal and sprinkle fruit on top.As a minimum guideline, we look for a ratio where the sodium count sodium is less than the number of calories contained in the recommended serving size (note: this is our individual intake ratio).|
|Bakery Type Goods
||Specifically, we look for lower sodium bread options, or we limit/reduce our portion size/frequency.We keep a keen watch out for sodium in breads because it is such a tough category: many pre-made items are leavened using baking powder, baking soda, buttermilk, and/or salt – and the sodium can quickly add up. Many bakers use salted butter.|
|Butter & Nut Spreads Dairy & Dairy Products:
- Buttermilk, (some) yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.
- Flavored Milk (chocolate, etc.); creamers- some mayonnaise brands
|We buy unsalted or low sodium versions of everything in this category.We’ve actually reduced the total amount of fat that we consume, so high-fat dairy (butter or buttermilk) is a “once in a blue moon” occurrence for us.When we do drink milk, its’ low fat. We don’t buy pre-made flavored milk.We try to stay away from [coffee] creamers due to calories (which can add up during the day; it has less due to with sodium for us).We’ve started to increase the use of apple sauce (or other types of moisture) in place of butter, which helps to cut down on the overall amount of fat.
Mayonnaise – we’ve switched from an egg based one to canola or olive oil based ones. For the most part, the taste is comparable — and we’ve been able to find brands that are a little lower in sodium.
Occasionally, we’ll use a spot of (lower sodium) crème fraiche to add a zing of extra flavor.
|Breakfast Meats and Breakfast Add-ons
||Every day eating of these foods is out for us. Sometimes we buy (milk) cheese alternatives, like almond cheese – which can be lower in sodium.Turkey or soy products can sometimes be deceptive, as we’ve come across many that carry a lot of sodium.|
|Coffee/Caffeinated Drinks||I personally opt for non-caffeinated herbal teas; for me, it’s a decision that has more to do with having a goal to lower my blood pressure, rather than limit sodium intake.|
|Canned Goods & Vegetable Juices||Because we live in California, and fresh fruits and vegetables are easier to access, we actually don’t eat many canned goods – so our experience is limited in this category.The “canned goods” category seems to be getting better by the day: we’ve observed lower sodium, or no salt added versions are more readily available at the grocer.Simple steps, like washing/rinsing canned vegetables/beans before using them in a recipe supposedly helps.Shopping trick: we check the frozen isle (rather than canned); often the lower sodium vegetable options hide out there.
Lower/low sodium vegetable juices are available (often at a tradeoff of increased potassium levels).
|Instant/Packaged Soups||It’s been several years since we’ve eaten packaged or canned soups. We like to make soups, and so we tend to make many soups from scratch.
Using low-sodium stock bases (and not broths, which are less concentrated in flavor) is the key to establishing a solid flavor base; if we make the stock ourselves, the soup comes out to be pretty low in sodium (but it’s also a lot more work).There’s definitely a tradeoff when it comes to this category (time/cost versus sodium level).
|Salad Dressings, Cheeses & Condiments Examples can include:
||This is another category that requires a more mindful eye for us; one that seems to be getting better as time progresses.We’ve found no-salt added mustards, and lower sodium cheeses and condiments; we’ve found no-salt processed olives at the Farmer’s Market which we buy as a treat.We’ve really had to look at the nutrition label to make sure that the “stated serving size” on the pack works for us.|
|Sports drinks/liquid gels/bars;
sodas, flavored drinks.
|It’s an area that we keep a mindful eye on: sodium amounts can quickly add up if we’re downing several servings of [sports] drinks throughout the day.|
Meats-bacon, corned beef ham, pastrami, sausage,Fish -smoked/cured fish, crab (real or imitation); caviar, anchovies
|These are reserved for the “once in a really blue moon” category; or the “wow we got really lucky” category – because for us, red meat is mostly off our table.To have lunch options during the week, we’ll grill up a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or roast up a turkey breast to use instead.|
|Hot Dogs||We’ve been seeing more (lower sodium) options in this category – but we definitely have to keep our eyes peeled for sneaky suspects because there are a lot of them still out there.|
|Packaged Entrees/Sides/Fast Food
||It’s a personal preference: we avoid fast food. We also avoid most packaged entrees.Pizza is a tough one, because there’s sodium almost every which way we turn. Try ordering less cheese; veggies instead of high salt meats; light on the tomato sauce.Pasta sauces can be higher sodium culprits; the good news is that we’re starting to see more lower sodium options.|
|Cheeses||We’re mindful that the sodium in cheese can tip the meal into a “higher than expected” sodium intake level, especially with pasta.Mascarpone is a cheese that we like to use in small quantities: it packs a flavor punch.|
||This is probably one of more slippery categories, because we always have to be mindful of the serving sizes and read the nutritional facts panel.Seasonings can be tricky. We think there are some great low sodium seasonings out there; and there are a lot that contain a fair amount of salt.There were times in the past where we had piled on the seasonings not realizing that we were adding a ton of salt (= wasn’t the intent).
We’re an MSG-free household.
|Prepared snack foods/desserts
||If I were to put my finger on a category that changed a lot from pre-low sodium eating to today – this would be one of them.We love eating fresh fruit, salt-free roasted nuts; salt-free dried fruits/bars; and trail mix.|
|Alcohol||See our blog post on whether cooking actually reduces the alcohol content, you may be surprised (as we were).We’ve reduced our overall alcohol consumption which has more to do with our goal to lower blood pressure, rather than limit sodium intake.|
|Other names that sodium can hide under||