Salt Vs. Sodium

As a registered dietitian, I hear frequently from clients who tell me that they don't eat salt and can't understand why their blood pressure is so high. Many of them don't realize that even if they aren't adding salt themselves, salt -- a chemical compound of sodium and chloride -- is an ingredient of many foods they eat every day, and this is where sodium comes into the picture.

If you are eating mostly fresh and unprocessed foods, you are most likely avoiding hidden sources of sodium. However, prepared, processed, and prepackaged foods are a potential pitfall. You need to read food labels and identify the many different sodium compounds that are added to foods. If the ingredients on the label include monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, or sodium nitrate, that food is a potential source of hidden sodium.

Avoid the following high-sodium foods if you are trying to limit your sodium intake:

  • Canned and cured meats, canned fish, and some lunch meats
  • Processed cheese and cheese spreads
  • Canned or bottled vegetable juices
  • Commercial canned soups and vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, and olives
  • Salted chips, popcorn, pretzels, and crackers
  • Seasonings that contain monosodium glutamate, celery, onion, garlic salt, or soy sauce

Do any of you have just one food that you always add salt to? Fresh tomatoes in the summertime? corn on the cob? mashed potatoes? hard-boiled eggs? If it truly is just one item, you eat it only occasionally, and you do not have a medical condition that requires you to restrict sodium severely, it's OK to indulge. But remember: there are probably plenty of hidden sources of sodium in your diet already, before you add the salt at the table.