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Consumer Reports Identifies Foods With Surprisingly High Levels of Sodium

December 2, 2008

Shaking salt from the diet isn’t easy; Consumer Reports urges consumers to check food labels. Plus, tips for preparing dishes low in sodium.

YONKERS, N.Y., Dec. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A new report from Consumer Reports found that sodium lurks in foods that consumers might not think to check, and warns that lower-fat foods can be higher in sodium than their full-fat counterparts. The full report is available in the January 2009 issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

Consumer Reports analyzed 37 supermarket staples and found large amounts of sodium in unexpected places — including some foods that don’t necessarily taste salty at all. For example, a cup of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran contains 350 milligrams (mg) of sodium, while a half-cup of Friendship 1% low-fat cottage cheese has 360 mg. And a single Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain White Bagel is loaded with 440 mg. Consumer Reports advises consumers to check food labels for sodium content. These types of sodium surprises present challenges for people charged with cooking for the holidays.

Dietary guidelines recommend that healthy adults get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, the amount in just 1 teaspoon of table salt. People with hypertension, those middle-aged and older, and African-Americans should aim for less than that — no more than 1,500 mg. But the average American ingests 2,900 to 4,300 mg daily. A high-sodium diet might increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure (and subsequent heart attack, kidney disease, and stroke), as well as risk of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer. According to the American Medical Association, a 50 percent reduction in the nation’s dietary sodium intake could save 150,000 lives a year.

“This time of year, when people are trying to watch their calories in between holiday parties, it’s important to be vigilant about sodium. Our analysis found that lower-fat products might be higher in sodium. That’s in part because when fat is taken out of full-fat foods, sodium is sometimes used to compensate for flavor,” says Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports. Case in point: A serving of Ruffles Original Potato Chips has 10 grams of fat and 160 mg of sodium while the baked version has 7 fewer grams of fat but 40 mg more sodium.

Adds Hirsh, “On average, Americans consume far more sodium than the recommended daily limit. Unfortunately, cutting back isn’t easy because of the high levels of sodium in the many processed and prepared foods that Americans eat on a regular basis.” Hirsh notes that a consumer might be getting sodium, even if “sodium chloride” is not listed as an ingredient. Sodium is contained in disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, sodium caseinate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrite, and other combinations. Some of those ingredients are flavor enhancers; others are thickeners, preservatives, or texture enhancers.

Surprising Sodium

The Consumer Reports analysis found that sodium lurks in foods that consumers may never think to check:

  • Twizzlers Black Licorice Twists. Four strands have 200 mg. Strangely, four strands of Twizzlers Strawberry Licorice only have 115 mg.
  • Prego Heart Smart Traditional Italian Sauce. An American Heart Association logo on the label means that saturated fat and cholesterol are restricted, but not that sodium is super-low. This sauce has 430 mg per half-cup.
  • Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix. Prepared as directed, each pancake has roughly 200 mg of sodium.
  • Heart Healthy V8 vegetable juice. Just one cup has 480 mg.
  • Some fast-food fare that might appear to be healthy also has surprisingly high levels of sodium. McDonald’s Premium Caesar Salad with grilled chicken, for example, has 890 mg, without dressing. Compare that to 350 mg in a large order of fries.

What Consumers Can Do

In addition to checking food labels for sodium content, Consumer Reports advises consumers to do the following:

  • Shop for condiments with no salt added. And consider buying canned vegetables packed with less salt. Avoid meats and poultry that have been marinated or injected with salty solutions.
  • Be a salt-conscious chef. Taste before adding salt. Use herbs and spices, salt-free seasoning blends, citrus juice or zest, and flavored vinegars instead of salt. Use sodium-free broth as a base for homemade soup. Replace regular bouillon with a sodium-free product, such as Herb Ox Sodium-Free Instant Broth & Seasoning Chicken Bouillon.
  • Eat one serving. A cup of Progresso 50% Less Sodium Chicken Noodle soup has 470 mg of sodium, about half the amount in Progresso Traditional. But if you consume the whole can of the 50% Less Sodium soup, you’ll get almost 1,000 mg.
  • Avoid sodium heavyweights. Or limit them when possible. Some that we have seen include soy sauce (1,160 mg per tablespoon), chicken bouillon (1,100 mg per packet), frozen dinners (like Stouffer’s Lasagna with Meat & Sauce, which has 930 mg per serving), and Spam (790 mg per 2 ounces), as well as cured meats such as bacon, ham, and hot dogs; sardines and smoked salmon; and brined foods, such as pickles and olives.
  • Eat at home. A diner can easily consume a day’s worth of sodium in a single restaurant dish.
  • Check your meds. Some drugs contain sodium. Ask your doctor about yours if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet.

Consumer Reports also conducted a taste test with lower-salt versions of four usually high-sodium foods. Among the more popular choices: Dietz & Watson Gourmet Lite Turkey Breast (skin on), with 240 mg of sodium per 2-ounce serving, and The Silver Palate Salad Splash Balsamic Country Salad Dressing, with 15 mg in 2 tablespoons.

The full report is available in the January ’09 issue or online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

SOURCE Consumer Reports


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