Certain foods are higher in salt or sodium. These include breads, deli meats, and canned foods. Consuming too much sodium can lead to health issues.

Current dietary guidelines recommend that adults in the United States limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Despite this, the average American consumes around 3,440 mg of sodium a day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 71% of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed and restaurant or take-out foods.

This article looks at health conditions that may be caused by a diet high in sodium. We also identify foods that are typically high in sodium and offer advice on how to reduce sodium intake.

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One way a person can reduce their dietary salt intake is to reduce the amount of salt they add to foods as a seasoning. Another way is to avoid foods that have a high salt content.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40% of the sodium in the average American adult’s diet comes from the following 10 foods:

  • breads and rolls
  • pizza
  • sandwiches
  • cold cuts and cured meats
  • soups
  • burritos and tacos
  • savory snacks, such as chips, popcorn, and crackers
  • chicken
  • cheese
  • eggs and omelets

Figures for sodium percentages and quantities in food in the below sections are all from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Bread and bread products

Bread and bread products are often high in “hidden salt.”

A 2018 study comparing U.S. bread products to U.K. bread products found that the U.S. products contained 12% more sodium on average. According to the study, just 1 in 5 bread products in the U.S. meets targets set by the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI).

Bread products that are typically very high in sodium include:

  • crumpets
  • bagels
  • ciabatta bread
  • tortillas

Canned foods

Canned foods often contain high levels of sodium. Some examples include:

  • Canned fish: Just 1 cup (154 grams) of canned, drained tuna in water can contain around 337 mg of sodium.
  • Canned soups: A single can of minestrone soup can contain around 1,550 mg of sodium. Some meat-based soups contain even higher levels.
  • Canned vegetables: 1 cup of canned mixed vegetables contains around 450 mg of sodium. The salt is used as a preservative in the canning process.

Rinsing the canning liquor from seafood and vegetables may help to reduce the sodium content of these products.

Cold cuts and deli meats

Sliced meats and luncheon meats can be packed with salt.

Just 1 slice of ham can contain around 291 mg of sodium while a 2 ounce serving of pastrami has 560 mg.

Even lean chicken strips can contain as much as 650 mg of sodium per 100 gram (g) serving.

Breakfast cereals

Breakfast cereals can be another hidden source of sodium, particularly if portion sizes are larger than recommended.

Just 1 cup of cornflakes can contain 204 mg of sodium, while a 74 g portion of instant oatmeal contains around 365 mg.

Sauces, dressings and condiments

Certain sauces, salad dressings, and condiments can contain high levels of sodium.

Just 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains 154 mg of sodium, while a tablespoon of oyster sauce contains 437 mg of sodium. Soy sauce is the worst offender, with a single tablespoon containing 879 mg of sodium.

Pork products

Processed pork products typically contain high levels of sodium compared to other meats and poultry.

Just 2 slices of bacon can contain 330mg of sodium, while 2 standard pork sausages contain around 326mg.

Cheese and dairy products

The amount of sodium present in different cheeses can vary according to the type of cheese and the brand. Cheeses with the highest salt content include halloumi and imported blue cheeses. In addition, branded cheddar cheese is often higher in salt content than store-brand varieties.

Other dairy products that are particularly high in salt include:

  • Cottage cheese: 100 g of cottage cheese contains around 224 mg of sodium.
  • Cheese spreads and sauces: 100 g of cheese sauce contains around 651 mg of sodium.
  • Salted butter

One way to reduce sodium intake is to limit or avoid high-sodium foods, such as processed, pre-packaged, or restaurant and take-out foods. A 2017 study of 450 U.S. adults found that foods prepared and eaten outside the home accounted for more than 70% of a person’s daily sodium intake.

Wherever possible, people should opt for fresh, homemade meals and snacks. Other ways to reduce sodium in the diet include:

  • choosing fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned options
  • buying and preparing fresh meat and fish at home, instead of eating ready-made or breaded varieties
  • flavoring foods using herbs and spices instead of salt
  • making sauces and condiments from scratch
  • buying low-sodium cereals and snacks
  • reducing portion size, especially when eating processed or take-out foods

People can also consider following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan. This is a flexible and balanced eating plan focusing on low-fat, low-sodium foods for optimal heart health. According to the DASH diet, reducing sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day can actively lower blood pressure.

Reducing sodium intake may confer several health benefits. Some examples are:

Improved heart health

Reducing sodium in the diet can help to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart and circulatory problems, such as:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • heart failure

A 2013 review of 34 trials found that a modest reduction in salt intake for 4 weeks or more caused blood pressure to fall significantly.

Reduced risk of gastric cancer

A 2015 review of 76 studies found that salt intake was directly associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer. This association was dose-dependent: the risk of gastric cancer increased by 12% for every 5 g-per-day increase in salt intake.

Reducing salt in the diet may help to lower the risk of developing gastric cancer. However, further studies are necessary to confirm this.

Reduced risk of obesity and related conditions

Eating a diet high in salt has also been linked to increased body fat and Type 2 diabetes in both children and adults. Reducing sodium may help to lower the risk of obesity and obesity-related health conditions.

A diet that is high in salt or sodium may cause high blood pressure or hypertension. Salt attracts water and so a high-salt diet increases water in the bloodstream, raising the volume of blood. The increase in blood volume puts extra pressure on the circulatory system, causing high blood pressure.

Over time, hypertension can cause damage to organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. Without treatment, hypertension increases the risk of the following health problems:

Studies within the last 10 years have also linked a high-sodium diet to the following health issues:

Many processed and ready-made foods are high in sodium. A person can reduce their sodium intake by making fresh, home-prepared meals and snacks, and opting for low-sodium foods when shopping.

Reducing sodium intake may help to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke.

Studies have also linked high salt intake to a higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and gastric cancer. A low sodium diet may help to reduce the risk of these health issues.