Sodium Doesn't Always Mean Salt

Despite your best efforts, your blood pressure remains high, your shoes often feel too small for your feet, and some nights it is difficult to remove your rings. Your body clearly indicates signs of water retention; however, you do not add salt to your food… at least not intentionally.

The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendation for sodium intake is 1,500 mg per day, with the Upper Limit set at 2,300 mg. However, most Americans consume 3,500 mg or more of sodium each day. Why are we missing the mark? Perhaps it’s because we are not aware of the difference between sodium and salt.

Sodium does not necessarily mean table salt. Table salt is a hardening agent (as in hardening of the arteries) comprised of sodium and chloride. Sodium, an important mineral and electrolyte, naturally occurs in meats, nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods account for only 10% of daily sodium intake. The remainder comes from the table salt that we add to our food (amounting to about 15%), and from processed foods – responsible for a whopping 75% of our sodium intake!

A correct balance between sodium and water in the body is essential for good health. When sodium intake is excessive, the kidneys work harder to excrete the unwanted compound. Diets high in sodium often lead to fluid retention (edema), high blood pressure, stroke, kidney stones, and heart attacks, in addition to contributing towards osteoporosis, heartburn, stomach cancer, and exercise-induced asthma.

One level teaspoon of salt provides 2,132 mg of sodium. Even if you do not add salt to your cooking, read product labels to identify hidden sources of sodium such as sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) and monosodium glutamate (MSG). The biggest culprits are fast foods, processed foods, lunch meats, prepared soups, and condiments.

Sodium in Fast Food

It’s no secret! Fast foods are not only a major source of fat and calories, but of sodium as well.

The sodium content of some favorite fast foods is listed here:

Applebee’s Grilled Steak Caesar Salad (no toast)

1,953 mg per Entrée sized salad

Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich, Regular

953 mg per sandwich

Burger King French Fries Large

510 mg for 159 g serving size

Burger King Original Whopper Sandwich with cheese

1,330 mg for 307 serving size

KFC (original recipe) drumstick

1,020 mg per 3 pieces

McDonald’s Big Mac Sandwich

1,020 mg for 209 g serving size

McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich

1,080 mg for 182 g serving size

McDonald’s Egg McMuffin sandwich

760 mg for 134 g serving size

Pizza Hut Pepperoni Pan Pizza

900 mg per 1 slice (1/8 of pizza)

Quizno’s Salad: Flatbread Chopped Roasted Chicken Honey Mustard with Dressing

2,000 mg per salad

Taco Bell, Beef Supreme Soft Taco

650 mg per 1 taco

Wendy’s Ultimate Chicken Grill

950 mg per sandwich

Wendy’s Garden Sensations Mandarin Chicken with Almonds, Crispy Noodles & Dressing

1,120 mg

White Castle Chicken Breast with Cheese

710 mg per sandwich

Sodium Hide & Seek Where is sodium hiding in your kitchen? You might be surprised. Take a look at the label of any processed, canned, and packaged food.

This list should give you an idea of the sodium content in some common foods:



Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup

650 mg of sodium per 1 cup

Amy’s Lentil Soup

590 mg per 1 cup

Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom

640 mg of sodium per ½ cup

Imagine Creamy Portobello Mushroom Soup

390 mg per 1 cup

Mr. Noodles Spicy Beef

850 mg of sodium per half of the package

Pacific Hearty Beef Barley Soup

790 per 1 cup

Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup

1040 mg of sodium per 1 cup

Imagine Organic Sweet Potato Soup

400 mg per 1 cup



Classico Alfredo and Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce

860 mg per ½ cup

Eden Foods, Organic Diced Tomatoes

5 mg per ½ cup

Ragu Original mushroom Tomato Sauce

670 mg per ½ cup

Muir Glen Organic Stewed Tomatoes

290 mg per ½ cup



Wonder Bread, 2 slices, Classic Sandwich

260 per 2 slices

Ezekiel Sprouted Bread

150 mg per 2 slices

Hamburger bun

146 mg per 1 bun

Ezekiel (Food for Life) bun

170 mg per 1 bun

Corn Flakes

199 mg per 1 cup

Kashi Go Lean

85 mg per 1 cup

Special K Original Cereal

220 mg per 1 cup

Nature’s Path Flax Plus

40 mg per 1 cup

Lipton SideKicks Noodles, Butter & Herb

1,070 mg per 1 cup

Whole wheat pasta

15 mg per 1.5 cups

Rice A Roni Spanish Rice

990 mg per 1/3 cup (dry)

Brown rice

5 mg per ½ cup (cooked)

Stouffer’s Pastaria 3 Cheese Macaroni

1,200 mg per 1 package

Brown rice pasta

5 mg per ½ cup



Turkey deli meat

213 mg per 3.5” square

Turkey breast, roasted

54 mg per 3 oz.

Maple Lodge Farms Chicken Breast

670 mg per 3 slices

Chicken breast, meat only

63 mg per 3 oz.


555 mg per 3 slices

Pork, fresh tenderloin

48 mg per 3 oz.

Smoked Salmon

650 mg per 2 oz.

Fresh sockeye salmon

56 mg per 3 oz.



1% milk

143 mg per 1 cup

Rice Dream, Original

100 mg per 1 cup

Cheddar cheese

350 mg per ½ cup

Plain yogurt

55 mg per ½ cup



Dill pickle

390 mg per 1 medium spear

Cucumber, raw with peel

6 mg per 8” cucumber


190 mg per 1 tbsp.

Annie’s Organic Ketchup

150 mg per 1 tbsp.

Chipotle Salsa (Tomato)

650 per 1 serving (4 oz.)

Newman’s Own Organic Salsa

0 mg per 1 serving

The sodium content of packaged foods is clearly labeled in the Nutrition Facts panel. Check the serving size to ensure you’re staying within your 1,500 mg limit.

Read labels for other hidden sources of sodium:


Baking powder (contains sodium bicarbonate)


Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)




Celery salt


Disodium phosphate


Garlic salt


Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)


Onion salt


Sodium alginate


Sodium benzoate


Sodium bisulfate


Sodium hydroxide


Sodium propionate


Soy sauce

Reducing Sodium in Your Diet

Cutting down on sodium doesn’t mean bland or boring meals. There are many ways to creatively reduce the amount of sodium in your diet without sacrificing taste. Here are some tips:
  • Eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods that are naturally low in sodium. Avoid or be aware of processed, canned and convenience foods.

  • Replace your table salt (sodium chloride) with natural sea salt. Sea salt (pale pink or light grey) is obtained from sea water and is rich in dozens of important trace minerals.

  • Season foods with sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and dulse. Seaweed imparts a mild salty flavor with very little sodium.

  • Spice up your life. You won’t miss the salt if you’re creative with spices and herbs. Also, try seasoning your food with wine, lemon, lime, or vinegar to give food more flavors.

  • Use sodium reduced or natural products, such as dry cereals, with no added sodium.

  • If you eat canned foods, rinse the food under water first. This can reduce the sodium content by up to 40%! However, fresh is always better.

  • Limit cured foods (such as bacon and ham), foods packed in brine (such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives and sauerkraut), and condiments such as horseradish, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce (or use low sodium versions of these condiments).

  • Look for low-sodium soups and broth. Even better, make your own.

  • Purchase or make natural nut butters instead of regular peanut butter.

By Lisa Tsakos| July 09, 2008
Categories:  Eat
Keywords:  Healthy Eating

About the Author

Lisa Tsakos

Lisa Tsakos

Lisa has been in her own practice for over 15 years and specializes in weight management. She teaches natural nutrition in both corporate and educational environments and is a shining example of someone who practices what she teaches.

Lisa is a nutritionist and educator specializing in weight management. After losing weight several years ago through a more natural diet and by improving her digestion, she committed to sharing her new-found knowledge and returned to school to study nutrition. Over the past decade, her Nu-Vitality Weight Program has helped employees at numerous corporations lose thousands of pounds. In addition, Lisa regularly consults for groups and individuals with unique nutritional needs such as police officers and athletes. Lisa has been featured on the Discovery Channel, numerous radio programs and is a contributor to various publications. Additionally, she teaches nutrition at multiple post-secondary schools, has taught natural food cooking workshops, and authored two books.

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