Sneaky Sodium: A Few Surprising Sources of Sodium in Food

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Jiri Hera)

You may have heard someone make the following statement before: “I don’t eat a lot of sodium. I never salt my food.”

But the truth is, the salt shaker is not the only source of sodium. And actually, that salt you use (or don’t use!) while cooking and before you dig into dinner only contributes to 10% of the sodium you consume, according to the American Heart Association. Here are a few surprising spots where sodium can be found.

Earlier this week we talked about reading nutrition labels for sodium content, and some of the ingredients that signal high amounts of sodium.

Remember: Salt Doesn’t Equal Sodium

Although the people tend to use these two terms interchangeably, sodium is only a component of the table salt you use for cooking and sprinkling, which contains 40% sodium and 60% chloride. And while we generally think of the salt shaker as the main source of sodium in our diets, sodium also exists in most foods naturally, from carrots (42mg per large carrot), to eggs (70mg per egg), to chicken thigh (80mg per 3oz boneless, skinless thigh), to lobster (150mg per 3oz lobster).

Surprising Sources of Sodium

Sodium hides in a lot of unexpected places, like sandwich bread (over which can range from 80mg to 230mg per slice, depending on brand), milk (around 100mg per 1 cup), medications (like antacids), and that can of soup (which can range from 100 to 1000mg per cup, depending on brand).

On the less surprising but still startlingly high end of things, don’t forget about the soy sauce (over 1000 mg per tablespoon), your favorite salad dressings (135 mg per tablespoon of ranch dressing, depending on brand), and baking powder (over 400 mg per teaspoon) and baking soda (1,249 mg per teaspoon).

So even if you don’t “salt” your food, remember sodium is found in other ingredients you use when cooking and eating, from processed food to the produce aisle. Which all contribute to your daily total. This is of course old hat to folks who have to track their daily sodium carefully for medical reasons, but if you’re just beginning to be aware of the sodium in your diet, pay attention to labels — you might be surprised at what you find!

→ Sodium Savvy Tip: Check out the CDC’s Salty Six as well as the Seven Salty Myths Busted to learn more about secret sodium culprits. And use the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference to find the average sodium contents of favorite products, restaurant dishes, and whole ingredients.

Note: All sodium counts based on the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference release 26.