Believe it or not, even healthy foods can be high in sodium, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them altogether. Because they’re often packed with essential vitamins and minerals, it’s a good idea to be mindful of portion control and opt for low-sodium versions, when possible.
So, what’s the deal with sodium? Your body needs sodium to help maintain proper electrolyte balance (especially after a sweaty workout), but being too liberal with that saltshaker can put your heart health at risk.
Major organizations, like the USDA, AHA, and ADA, advise that we stick to between 1,500 and 2,300 mg of sodium daily. But sneaky sources of sodium in processed foods may make it difficult to stay below these recommendations.
In fact, the average person consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to experts at Healthline. Yikes.
It’s still okay to keep these healthy foods in your kitchen, but check the label to make sure you have a general idea of the amount of sodium you may be consuming.
We asked Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, to name a few good-for-you foods that can still be heavy on the salt.
Canned Tomato Sauce
Who can resist a plate of pasta marinara on a chilly winter evening? Unfortunately, you might wake up feeling bloated thanks to the sodium hiding in the canned tomato sauce.
If you purchase a regular jar and give yourself a ½-cup serving, it can easily exceed 500 mg of sodium. (FYI, the same goes for chicken noodle soup!)
Still, “tomato sauce is a great way to get a serving of vegetables in as well as important nutrients like lycopene and vitamins A and C,” says Shaw, “so you’ll want to keep it in your pantry.”
A tip? “Rather than avoid the sauce, choose the lower-sodium varieties or make your own. A half cup of low-sodium canned tomato sauce has anywhere from 38 mg to 140 mg of sodium, which is quite reasonable,” she explains.
Likewise, don’t use a whole bottle of soy sauce when you’re dressing your sushi. Soy sauce, though delicious and good for you (if it is made using traditional fermentation methods), is high in sodium. While that sushi might taste better, you may feel a bit puffier come morning. One tablespoon has 879 mg of sodium!
Opt for low sodium, which you can buy for home or even ask for when dining at a restaurant. “One tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce has 511 mg of sodium,” she says.
You can also season with other things in order to halve the portion of soy sauce that’s needed. “Soy sauce can be used as a great flavoring agent in many dishes and does not need to be avoided; however, be sure to season with other flavorings, such as ginger, garlic, and onion, and use the soy sauce to impart flavor rather than be the entire flavor profile,” she advises.
Eating cottage cheese for a post-workout snack or easy breakfast is a great idea as it’s high in bone-building calcium and protein to keep you full. However, just as it’s rich in these key nutrients, it’s also pretty heavy in the sodium department.
A half-cup of 2% cottage cheese has 350 mg of sodium but also packs 13 g of protein, making it a healthy option, according to Shaw. “I love cottage cheese and think it’s a great way to add more protein and a serving of dairy to your diet.”
“Instead of pairing it with crackers (another potentially high-sodium food), serve it inside an avocado for a great source of healthy fat and satiating fiber, too,” she says.
Canned Beans and Legumes
Opening a can of beans or legumes is handy when you’re pressed for time – they are terrific sources of plant-based protein – but you’ll want to rinse them before cooking or topping a salad.
“The sodium content here will vary, but the best way to decrease the sodium by at least a third is to rinse and drain those beans,” says Shaw.
“Beans are a great way to include a source of protein and fiber in your diet in a plant-forward fashion, so don’t eliminate these from your diet,” she says.
Bread and Cereal Grains
When you think of a loaf of bread, you might think carbs. But you should really be thinking sugar and sodium, too.
“Breads and other whole grains that pack a good dose of fiber oftentimes also come with a high sodium price tag,” says Shaw.
But don't fret – you can easily incorporate these foods into a balanced diet when you plan ahead and pay attention to labels.
“Choose breads that have less than 200 mg of sodium per serving and pack at least three grams of fiber. You can easily pair this with a loaded veggie and avocado sandwich that adds very little sodium to the final dish! Add an egg or lean grilled chicken breast for extra protein, too,” she says.
When you get a pack of mixed nuts, they’re not kidding when they say “salted.” Nuts are super high in sodium and can make you hold extra water weight and want to chug water like crazy.
In fact, “some of the single-serve bags can easily rack up 500+ mg of sodium in your daily diet,” Shaw says.
But there’s no reason not to chow down on nuts. “Nuts are a great way to get healthy unsaturated fats into your diet,” says Shaw. Instead of relying on a bag of mixed nuts, make your own unsalted version. You’ll save yourself some money while controlling the amount of added salt in the final dish!
How do you like to eat these healthy but salty foods? Please share your recipes below!