Many convenience foods, salty snacks, and processed meats are high in sodium. Swapping these foods for lower sodium alternatives may be beneficial if you have high blood pressure.
Table salt, known chemically as sodium chloride, is made up of 40% sodium.
It’s estimated that at least half of people with hypertension have blood pressure that’s affected by sodium consumption — meaning they’re salt sensitive. In addition, your risk for salt sensitivity increases with age (
The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for sodium is 2,300 mg — or about 1 teaspoon of salt (
Still, average daily sodium intake in the United States is 3,400 mg — much higher than the recommended upper limit.
This mainly comes from packaged and restaurant foods, rather than from overusing your salt shaker (
Sodium is added to foods for flavor and as part of some food preservatives and additives (
Here are 30 foods that tend to be high in sodium — and what to eat instead.
Packaged, plain, frozen shrimp commonly contains added salt for flavor, as well as sodium-rich preservatives. For example, sodium tripolyphosphate is commonly added to help minimize moisture loss during thawing (
A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of nonbreaded frozen shrimp may contain as much as 800 mg of sodium, 35% of the RDI. Breaded, fried shrimp is similarly salty (
In contrast, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of fresh-caught shrimp without salt and additives has just 101 mg of sodium, or 4% of the RDI (
Opt for fresh-caught ones if you can or check a health food store for frozen shrimp without additives.
Canned, packaged, and restaurant-prepared soups often pack a lot of sodium, though you can find reduced-sodium options for some canned varieties.
The sodium primarily comes from salt, though some soups also contain sodium-rich flavor additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
On average, canned soup has 700 mg of sodium, or 30% of the RDI, per 1-cup (245-gram) serving (
Ham is high in sodium because salt is used to cure and flavor the meat. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of roasted ham averages 1,117 mg of sodium, or 48% of the RDI (
There’s no sign of food companies cutting back on how heavily they salt this popular meat. In a recent national sampling of U.S. foods, researchers found that ham was 14% higher in sodium than in the previous analysis (
Consider using ham only as an occasional condiment in small amounts rather than eating a full serving.
Pudding doesn’t taste salty, but there’s plenty of sodium hiding in instant pudding mix.
This sodium is from salt and sodium-containing additives — disodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate — used to help thicken instant pudding.
A 25-gram portion of instant vanilla pudding mix — used to make a 1/2-cup serving — has 350 mg of sodium, or 15% of the RDI.
In contrast, the same amount of regular vanilla pudding mix contains only 135 mg of sodium, or 6% of the RDI (11, 12).
Cottage cheese is a good source of calcium and an excellent source of protein, but it’s also relatively high in salt. A 1/2-cup (113-gram) serving of cottage cheese averages 350 mg of sodium, or 15% of the RDI (13).
The salt in cottage cheese not only enhances flavor but also contributes to texture and functions as a preservative. Therefore, you generally won’t find low-sodium versions (
However, one study found that rinsing cottage cheese under running water for 3 minutes, then draining it, reduces sodium content by 63% (
Drinking vegetable juice is a simple way to get your veggies, but if you don’t read nutrition labels, you could be drinking a lot of sodium, too.
An 8-ounce (240-mL) serving of vegetable juice may have 405 mg of sodium, or 17% of the RDI (
Fortunately, some brands offer low-sodium versions, which means they can have no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving according to FDA rules (16).
Some of the sodium in salad dressing comes from salt. Additionally, some brands add sodium-containing flavor additives, such as MSG and its cousins, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.
In a review of major brand-name foods sold in U.S. stores, salad dressing averaged 304 mg of sodium per 2-tablespoon (28-gram) serving, or 13% of the RDI (
However, sodium ranged from 10–620 mg per serving across the samples of salad dressing, so if you shop carefully, you could find one low in sodium (
An even better option is to make your own. Try using extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
Pizza and other multi-ingredient dishes account for almost half of the sodium Americans consume.
Many of the ingredients, such as cheese, sauce, dough, and processed meat, contain significant amounts of sodium, which add up quickly when they’re combined (
A large, 140-gram slice of store-bought, frozen pizza averages 765 mg of sodium, or 33% of the RDI. A restaurant-prepared slice of the same size packs even more — averaging 957 mg of sodium, or 41% of the RDI (
If you eat more than one slice, the sodium quickly adds up. Instead, limit yourself to one slice and complete your meal with lower-sodium foods, such as a leafy green salad with low-sodium dressing.
Sandwiches are another one of the multi-ingredient dishes that account for almost half of the sodium Americans consume.
The bread, processed meat, cheese, and condiments often used to make sandwiches all contribute a significant amount of sodium (
For example, a 6-inch submarine sandwich made with cold cuts averages 1,127 mg of sodium, or 49% of the RDI (
You can significantly cut back on sodium, by choosing unprocessed sandwich toppings, such as grilled chicken breast with sliced avocado and tomato.
Packaged broths and stocks, which are used as the base for soups and stews or to flavor meat and vegetable dishes, are notoriously high in salt.
For example, 8-ounce (240-mL) serving of beef broth averages 782 mg of sodium, or 34% of the RDI. Chicken and vegetable broths are similarly high in sodium (17, 18, 19).
Fortunately, you can easily find reduced-sodium broths and stocks, which have at least 25% less sodium per serving than the regular versions (
Boxed potato dishes, particularly scalloped potatoes and other cheesy potatoes, pack a lot of salt. Some also contain sodium from MSG and preservatives.
A 1/2-cup (27-gram) portion of dry scalloped potato mix — which makes a 2/3-cup cooked serving — has 450 mg of sodium, or 19% of the RDI (21).
Everyone would be better off swapping boxed potatoes for more nutritious starches, such as a baked sweet potato or winter squash.
Crunchy pork rinds (skins) have grown in popularity due to increased interest in the low-carb ketogenic diet.
However, though pork rinds are a keto-friendly snack, they’re high in sodium.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of pork rinds has 515 mg of sodium, or 22% of the RDI. If you opt for barbecue flavor, a serving has 747 mg of sodium, or 32% of the RDI (22, 23).
If you’re craving something crunchy, consider unsalted nuts instead
Canned vegetables are convenient but pack their share of sodium.
For example, a 1/2-cup (124-gram) serving of canned peas has 310 mg of sodium, or 13% of the RDI. Similarly, a 1/2-cup (122-gram) serving of canned asparagus packs 346 mg of sodium, or 15% of the RDI (24, 25).
Draining and rinsing canned vegetables for a couple of minutes can reduce sodium content by 9–23%, depending on the vegetable. Alternatively, opt for plain, frozen vegetables, which are low in sodium yet convenient (26).
Processed cheeses, including pre-sliced American cheese and loaf-like processed cheese like Velveeta, tend to run higher in sodium than natural cheese.
This is partly because processed cheese is made with the help of emulsifying salts, such as sodium phosphate, at high temperatures, which makes a consistent, smooth product (27).
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of American cheese has 377 mg of sodium, or 16% of the RDI, while the same amount of loaf cheese has 444 mg of sodium, or 19% of the RDI (28, 29).
Instead, opt for lower-sodium, natural cheeses, such as Swiss or mozzarella.
The portability of jerky and other dried meats makes them a convenient protein source, but salt is used heavily to preserve them and boost flavor.
For example, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of beef jerky packs 620 mg of sodium, or 27% of the RDI (30).
If you’re a jerky fan, look for meat from grass-fed or organically raised animals, as they tend to have simpler ingredient lists and less sodium. But be sure to check the label (
Tortillas contain ample sodium, mainly from salt and leavening agents, such as baking soda or baking powder.
An 8-inch (55-gram) flour tortilla averages 391 mg of sodium, or 17% of the RDI. Therefore, if you eat two soft-shell tacos, you’ll get one-third of the RDI for sodium from the tortillas alone (
If you like tortillas, opt for whole grain and consider how the sodium count fits into your daily allowance.
Not only do cold cuts — also referred to as luncheon meats — and salami contain a lot of salt, many are also made with sodium-containing preservatives and other additives.
A 55-gram (2-ounce) serving of cold cuts averages 497 mg of sodium, or 21% of the RDI. The same amount of salami packs even more — 1,016 mg, or 44% of the RDI (
Sliced, fresh meat — such as roast beef or turkey — are healthier options.
The large salt crystals on top of pretzels are your first clue of their sodium content.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of pretzels averages 322 mg of sodium, or 14% of the RDI (
You can find unsalted pretzels, but they still shouldn’t be your go-to snack, as they’re usually made with white flour and have minimal nutritional value.
A single 1-ounce (28-gram) dill pickle spear — the kind of pickle that might come alongside a deli sandwich — has around 241 mg of sodium, or 10% of the RDI (
The sodium in whole pickles adds up more quickly. A medium-sized dill pickle packs 561 mg of sodium, or 24% of the RDI. If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, keep pickle portions small (
You may flavor foods with sauces either during cooking or at the table, but some of that flavor comes from salt.
Soy sauce is among the saltiest — a 1-tablespoon (15-ml) serving packs 1,024 mg of sodium, or 44% of the RDI (16, 32).
Barbecue sauce is quite salty as well, with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) providing 395 mg of sodium, or 17% of the RDI (16, 33).
You can find reduced-sodium versions of some sauces, including soy sauce, or make your own to keep levels low.
In a recent sampling of U.S. packaged foods, a hot dog or bratwurst link averaged 578 mg of sodium, or 25% of the RDI (
However, sodium ranged from 230–1,330 mg in the sampling of these processed meats, which suggests that if you read labels carefully, you may find lower-sodium options (
Still, processed meats are best saved for an occasional treat rather than everyday fare. The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that eating processed meats increases your risk for certain cancers (
You may not think to check the sodium in a can of plain tomato sauce or other canned tomato products, but you should.
Just 1/4 cup (62 grams) of tomato sauce has 321 mg of sodium, or 14% of the RDI (36).
Fortunately, canned tomato products without added salt are widely available.
Though bread, buns, and dinner rolls generally don’t contain shocking amounts of sodium, it can significantly add up for people who eat several servings per day (
Bagels are an especially big sodium contributor, as they tend to run large in size. One grocery-store bagel contains 400 mg of sodium, or 17% of the RDI (
Choosing smaller portions of bread will help you cut back on sodium, and opting for whole grain versions is healthier.
Like other canned foods, canned meats are higher in sodium than their fresh counterparts, though some manufacturers may be gradually reducing sodium.
In a recent analysis, canned tuna averaged 247 mg of sodium per 3-ounce (85-gram) serving, or 10% of the RDI. This represents a 27% decrease in sodium content compared to several decades ago (
In another recent analysis, canned chicken or turkey had 212–425 mg of sodium per 3-ounce (85-gram) serving, which is 9–18% of the RDI (8).
However, cured, canned meats, such as corned beef and pork, were significantly saltier — 794–1,393 mg of sodium per 3-ounce (85-gram) serving, or 29–51% of the RDI.
Pass these up for lower-sodium canned options or buy fresh (
Boxed meal helpers contain pasta or another starch along with powdered sauce and seasonings. You typically just add water and browned ground beef — or sometimes chicken or tuna — then cook it on your stovetop.
But this convenience comes at a steep cost — there’s generally around 575 mg of sodium per 1/4–1/2 cup (30–40 grams) of dry mix, or 25% of the RDI (
A much healthier and yet still quick alternative is to make your own stir-fry dish with lean meat or chicken and frozen vegetables.
This breakfast favorite packs its share of sodium even when it’s not smothered in gravy. The ones you make from frozen or refrigerated dough may be especially high in sodium, so limit biscuits to an occasional treat (
In a nationwide sampling in the United States, one biscuit made from packaged dough averaged 528 mg of sodium, or 23% of the RDI. Still, some contained as much as 840 mg of sodium per serving, or 36% of the RDI (
This favorite comfort food is high in sodium, mainly due to the salty cheese sauce. However, a recent analysis suggests that manufacturers have lowered the sodium in macaroni and cheese by an average of 10% (
Current data shows that a 2.5-ounce (70-gram) serving of the dry mix used to make a 1-cup (189-gram) serving of macaroni and cheese averages 475 mg of sodium, or 20% of the RDI (
If you want to occasionally eat macaroni and cheese, consider buying a whole grain version and dilute the dish by adding some vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach.
Many frozen meals are high in sodium, some containing at least half of your daily sodium allotment per dish. Check the label of each variety, as sodium can vary widely within a specific product line (39).
The FDA has set a limit of 600 mg of sodium for a frozen meal to qualify as healthy. You can use this number as a reasonable sodium limit when shopping for frozen meals. Still, it’s healthier to make your own meals (
Unlike other canned beans, you can’t rinse baked beans with water to wash away some of the salt since you’d be washing away the flavorful sauce as well (40).
A 1/2-cup (127-gram) serving of baked beans in sauce packs 524 mg of sodium, or 23% of the RDI.
Recipes to make baked beans at home may not have any less sodium, but you can modify them to reduce the added salt (41, 42).
Whether in links or patties, sausage averages 415 mg of sodium per 2-ounce (55-gram) serving, or 18% of the RDI (
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of bacon has 233 mg of sodium, or 10% of the RDI. Turkey bacon can pack just as much sodium, so check the nutrition label (43, 44).
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of salt pork, used to flavor dishes such as baked beans and clam chowder, has 399 mg of sodium, or 17% of the RDI, and nearly twice the fat of bacon (43, 45).
For good health, you should limit your use of these processed meats — regardless of the sodium count.
Many people far exceed the maximum recommendation of 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
In addition, your risk of developing salt-sensitive high blood pressure increases with age.
To cut back on sodium, it’s best to minimize processed, packaged, and restaurant foods, as they sneak in a lot of sodium you may not suspect.
Processed meats — such as ham, cold cuts, jerky, hot dogs and sausage — are especially high in sodium. Even plain, frozen shrimp are often treated with sodium-rich additives.
Convenience foods — including boxed potatoes, canned soup, instant pudding, meal helpers, pizza, and frozen meals — also tend to run high in sodium, as do salty snacks such as pork rinds and pretzels.
Some manufacturers are gradually reducing the sodium in certain packaged foods, but change is happening slowly. Regardless, many of these foods are unhealthy anyway.
It’s always best to opt for unprocessed, whole foods.