Should You Be Concerned About Salt in Your Canned Goods?

updated May 30, 2019
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A can of Goya chickpeas
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Are you looking to reduce your sodium? The reality is that most of us take in far too much, thanks mainly to processed and fast foods, not a heavy hand with the saltshaker. The very latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for eating less than 2,300 milligrams — or, one teaspoon of table salt — each day. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, your intake should be even lower.

The very easiest way to cut sodium is to avoid what the American Heart Association terms the salty six: bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold/cured meats, soup, and burritos/tacos. These popular, convenient, readily available foods have sky-high sodium (one cup of canned soup, for instance, could have half your daily allotment of sodium, for instance).

Soup isn’t the only canned good to watch for — otherwise good-for-you canned vegetables, fruits, fish, and beans can also have surprisingly high amounts of sodium.

Take beans: A single serving of canned black beans contains 459 milligrams of sodium (that’s 20 percent of your daily value right there). But if you’re trying to avoid sodium, the answer isn’t to eliminate all canned foods from your shopping cart. This would lead to missing out on all sorts of important foods, says Diana Orenstein, RD, a dietitian at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who notes that canned foods can be a great source of nutrients, as well as being budget-friendly and super-convenient.

Here’s how to make sure you get the benefits from omega-rich canned fish, fiber-full beans, and nutrient-packed canned vegetables — without taking in excess sodium.

Here’s How to Decode Your Label

Even though sodium can be used as a preservative, it does not need to be, says Orenstein, since “the canning process itself is the preservative.”

That means you’ll find plenty of canned foods on supermarket shelves that do not have high levels of sodium — or any at all! Orenstein recommends looking for cans that say low sodium, very low sodium, or sodium-free on their labels. These are FDA-regulated claims with strict definitions (to be classified as low sodium, for instance, a food must have 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving).

Tread carefully, though, if you see “reduced sodium” on the label. That too is an FDA-regulated claim, and requires only that the sodium be reduced 25 percent from the regular product. “This can still leave a high amount of sodium remaining,” says Orenstein.

The FDA provides a helpful guideline to follow as you examine the nutritional label on a can: “5% DV or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20% DV or more of sodium per serving is considered high.” And don’t forget to check the serving size, too — often, the serving size on the package is far less than the amount you’ll eat.

Drain Cans — Then Rinse, Rinse, Rinse

If you have purchased a can and the food within has high sodium levels, no need to chuck it. Instead, drain the can, then rinse the foods to reduce the sodium, says Orenstein. This works for fruits, vegetables, beans, and fish, she says. “There are estimates that this technique can result in a reduction of the sodium content by somewhere between 20 to 80 percent.” That’s a pretty wide range, but every little bit helps.