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Finding Sodium in Food


In lowering sodium intake, you will find that the salt shaker is not the only culprit in adding sodium to your food. If you don't add salt, that doesn't mean you're living a low sodium lifestyle. Certain amounts of sodium come from the foods themselves, while over 70% of our daily sodium intake comes from the salt and other sodium containing compounds added by those who process and prepare our foods. Canned foods, ready to eat breakfast cereals and snack foods are fairly well known to have sodium added by food processing and preparation. But what about other prepared products? In my local markets, breads range from a low of zero milligrams of sodium per slice up to 250 milligrams of sodium per slice. Plain breadcrumbs can be as low as 20 milligrams to as high as 200 milligrams per 1/4 cup. Ketchup ranges from no sodium to 230 milligrams per tablespoon. Even some frozen vegetables have salt added, with frozen peas going from a low of no sodium to a high of 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Non-processed foods, including fresh meats, fish and poultry, contain some sodium. For example, 3 ounces of pan-browned ground beef (15% fat) contains 76 milligrams of sodium. (1)

Therefore, the first step toward low salt cooking is to become an avid Nutrition Facts label reader. Do not assume that a processed or prepared food you are about to purchase has no salt or other sodium containing compound added. Reading the Nutrition Facts label is a fascinating journey into the world of "I can't believe they added that much sodium to this!"

Fortunately, most spices do not contain sodium, so can be used liberally to enhance the taste of food. Reading labels can still be important: several brands of chili powder contain up to 76 milligrams of sodium per Tablespoon, others have none. Also to consider: sodium in tap water varies from city to city. In my city, sodium is high at 25 milligrams per 8 ounce glass. Your city's sodium content in water can be found by a phone call to your local Public Works department. Bottled water can also contain sodium, so check the Nutrition Facts label on the bottle.

Below is a discussion of several of the condiments and other processed or prepared foods used in my recipes and their sodium content. My recipes use products with the lowest sodium content that I can find with a few exceptions noted when they apply. You can check your labels to see whether your product is the same, lower or higher in sodium content, and adjust the total milligrams of sodium per serving when you calculate your sodium intake.

Bacon

I have found a brand of pork bacon that has a sodium content of 140 milligrams per 2 ounce serving. This low sodium product permits me to add a small amount of bacon to a few of my recipes, and is the bacon that I use to compute the total sodium content of those recipes.

Beans

The canned beans that I use in my recipes have no salt added. Nonetheless, the beans have a small amount of sodium, probably due to the ingredient kombu seaweed which, according to Wikipedia, is often included in cooking beans to add nutrients and improve their digestibility. The sodium content of beans that I use is as follows:

Black beans:  15 mg. sodium for 1/2 cup 
Garbanzo beans:  30 mg. sodium per 1/2 cup 
Kidney beans:   15 mg. sodium per 1/2 cup 
Navy Beans  15 mg. sodium per 1/2 cup 
Pinto beans:  15 mg. sodium per 1/2 cup 

Breadcrumbs

Japanese style breadcrumbs, at 40 mg. of sodium per 1/2 cup serving, are the lowest sodium containing commercial breadcrumbs that I have been able to find. They are large crumbs, and can be used in the recipes calling for low sodium breadcrumbs. I have found no salt added breads in my local markets. I make my own breadcrumbs from the crusts by allowing the crusts to dry out, and then rolling them with a rolling pin until finely crumbled. I freeze them in jars for future use. My recipes that use breadcrumbs use the store bought variety. You can reduce the sodium content if you make your own low sodium breadcrumbs from no salt added bread.

Broths

I was using no salt added chicken broth with a total sodium content of 130 mg. per 1 cup serving until I discovered a low sodium chicken broth with a total sodium content of 70 mg. per 1 cup serving. I have switched to the low sodium variety with the hope that the labels are honest. Both versions are delicious, but I like the 60 mg. difference in sodium content, so use the low sodium variety in my recipes.

I can only find a no salt added variety of beef broth with a sodium content of 120 mg. per 1 cup serving. Until I find something lower, I use this beef broth in my recipes.

Cereal

The few times cornflakes cereal is used as a coating, the cereal I use has 200 mg. of sodium per 1 cup serving.

Cheese

To make up for the fact that I use cheese to give a tasty lift to my low sodium recipes, I stay away from no salt added cheeses. Instead, I seek out the lowest sodium cheeses that I can find. The sodium content of the cheeses that I use is listed below.

Cheddar cheese 170 mg. sodium per ounce 
Cream Cheese 35 mg. sodium per 2 Tablespoons
Grated Parmesan cheese  75 mg. per 2 teaspoons 
Mozzarella cheese (Part Skim)  80 mg. per ounce 
Swiss cheese  60 mg. per ounce 

I have also found a tasty grated Italian 3 cheese blend with only 70 mg. of sodium per ounce. This cheese can be used in place of grated cheddar cheese if available at your market, providing lower sodium content.

Chips

Occasionally, I use small amounts of chips in my recipes. My local markets carry both no salt added tortilla chips (zero mg. of sodium per ounce) and no salt added potato chips (0 to 5 mg. of sodium per ounce) due to the fact that potatoes have some sodium naturally, and the serving size is small).

Condiments

There are actually no salt added and very low sodium condiments in existence, but with some exceptions, these do not tend to be in the local supermarkets. See my links page for some suggestions on where to find no or very low salt added condiments. I use the lowest sodium condiments that I can find in my local markets. If you find them with lower or higher sodium content, then, as mentioned above, adjust the sodium content of the recipe up or down in accordance with what you purchase.

A special condiment is soy or Tamari sauce. They are normally very high in sodium. I have found that small amounts of reduced sodium Tamari sauce give a snappy taste to food, and can be used in place of salt. I use the reduced sodium Tamari sauce because I like its taste. Using reduced sodium soy sauce (575 mg. of sodium per Tablespoon) will bring the sodium content of your cooking down even further.

The "lower sodium mayonnaise" that I use is made without eggs and with canola oil, and is called "Mayo" instead of "mayonnaise."  It has 65 mg. of sodium per serving.  It is quite tasty, and does well in all of my recipes.  I have not been able to find a regular mayonnaise with as low a sodium content.

The sodium content of the condiments I use is:

Ketchup  0 mg. of sodium per 1 Tablespoon 
Lower sodium mayonnaise 65 mg. of sodium per 1 Tablespoon
Mustard, Dijon and Yellow "prepared"  55 mg. of sodium per 1 teaspoon 
Pepper sauce  30 mg. of sodium per 1 teaspoon 
Tamari sauce  700 mg. of sodium per 1 Tablespoon 
Worcestershire sauce  65 mg. of sodium per 1 teaspoon 

Fish (canned)

There are several brands of no salt added or very low sodium canned fish in my local markets. They vary in net weight and sodium content. My recipes have used the cans that provide about two ounces of fish per serving once the liquid is drained from the can. The sodium content of these products is:

No salt added Albacore tuna  30 mg. of sodium per 1/4 cup 
No salt added salmon  25 mg. of sodium per 1/3 cup 
Low sodium boiled baby clams 105 mg. of sodium per 1/3 cup 

Ham

The reduced sodium ham that I use in small portions contains 230 mg. of sodium per slice.  A small amount of this ham gives a nice boost to the flavor of several of my recipes.

Graham Crackers

I use graham crackers in several of my dessert recipes.  The lowest sodium graham crackers that I have been able to find contain 110 mg. of sodium per two graham cracker sheets. 

Milk Products

One of my local markets carries no salt added cottage cheese, with 45 mg. of sodium per 1/2 cup serving. This is the cheese I use for recipes such as lasagna.

I use 1% fat milk in my recipes even though it contains 160 mg. per 1 cup serving, a higher sodium content than skim milk. This is because 1% fat milk is higher in calcium. If you choose to use milk that is lower in sodium, you can adjust the total sodium content of the meal downward.

The fat free yogurt that I use is also high in sodium at 160 mg. per 1 cup serving. I use very small amounts of yogurt in my cooking so that the total sodium count remains low. There are Greek yogurts with only 85 mg. of sodium per 1 cup serving that are more expensive. These yogurts are thicker, and serve well as a substitute for sour cream. You can adjust the total sodium content of the recipe downward if you chose to use low sodium Greek yogurt.

Evaporated milk that is 2% fat has a sodium content of 35 mg. per two Tablespoons, a total sodium content of 420 mg. of sodium for a 12 ounce can. I do not add any salt to recipes that use evaporated milk, which lowers the sodium contribution by the milk to acceptable levels when there are 4 or more servings.

The unsweetened soy milk that I use has a total of only 30 mg. of sodium per 1 cup serving.

Tofu

Most brands of packaged tofu have zero milligrams of sodium. Read your labels, and try to find no salt added tofu. If your tofu has sodium, adjust the amount of sodium in the recipe upward according to the amount of sodium added.

Tomato Products (canned)

There are several brands of no salt added chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste in my local markets. Some are organic, some are not. I use the products with the lowest possible sodium content. They are as follows:

Tomatoes  45 mg. of sodium per 14.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes 
Tomato paste  20 mg. of sodium per 2 Tablespoons 
Tomato sauce  20 mg. of sodium per 1/4 cup 

Vegetables (frozen)

When I use frozen peas or corn in my recipes, they have no salt added, so their sodium content per serving is zero. I have seen frozen peas with sodium content as high as 200 mg. per serving. So remember to read your labels when buying frozen products.

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(1) Food Values of Portions Commonly Used (18th Edition) by Jean A.T. Pennington and Judith Spungen Douglass. This book contains detailed information on the components of a wide range of foods. For the United States Department of Agriculture's list of sodium in selected foods, see USDA National Nutrient Database


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