The Hidden Killer: Salt

Food fads and trends are an unavoidable nuisance – one day Gwyneth bakes kale chips on Ellen and suddenly everyone is eating kale until we are all totally and completely sick of kale – kale ice cream, anyone? With today’s focus on low fat and low sugar options, we have learned to check the labels for all different kinds of sugars (glucose, sucrose, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, rice syrup, etc.) and we can compare saturated, unsaturated and trans fats in our sleep. But in response, food manufacturers have been racing to provide tasty foods that fit those diet criteria, and in some cases, that means LOTS of salt – even in foods we don’t usually think of as “salty.”


It’s well known that sodium intake is a factor in many health problems, raising blood pressure and contributing to kidney and cardiovascular disease. Other studies have linked salt to cancer, asthma, Meniere’s disease, osteoarthritis and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends “no more than 2,300 mg per day and an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.” It’s not enough to avoid the saltshaker, as more than 75% of sodium intake comes from prepackaged, processed or restaurant foods.



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Recent analysis in Australia has found that one of the biggest culprits of hidden sodium is, surprisingly, bread. Even what is generally thought of as “healthy” bread, such as rye bread, tortillas or wraps, can have more sodium than a bag of chips. Some brands of whole wheat bread can have up to 400mg of sodium per slice, and if you’re having a sandwich, you’re probably eating two. Other surprising concealers of salt can include:


– Cottage cheese – look for no-salt added

– Nut butter – to make nut butter, you really only need peanuts and a food processor, but many companies add oils, sugar and lots of salt. Check the labels, or better yet, make your own.

– Spices – look for a sodium-free spice mix to add flavor to your meals, without dumping on the salt


The most important takeaway is that while food fads come and go, we can’t let our guard down on the big 3: salt, fat and sugar, and we must keep the pressure on food manufacturers to provide truly healthy options – not just a bait and switch.


In the meantime, check out the different ways cities are trying to protect residents from hidden salt.


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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

1 Comment

  1. Emma

    Interesting read but isn’t it unnecessary for a healthy person to restrict salt in their diet since the kidneys are fit enough to ensure electrolytes are not too high? I believe this should be clearly stated.