BY CHRISTA SGOBBA
Trying to cut sodium in your diet? You might be missing out on the biggest culprits, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests. That’s because the top sources of sodium in our diets aren’t really what you’d think.
The researchers had nearly 10,000 participants report what they ate within the last 24 hours. They discovered that the average person consumed 3,409 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day—well above the daily recommended guideline of 2,300 mg a day.
Then, when they broke down the data to look at what kinds of foods accounted for the most sodium the people were eating, they were in for a surprise. Salty snacks—like potato chips, pretzels, and crackers—didn’t crack the top 5. They accounted for 3.3 percent of the total sodium consumed.
The biggest culprits? Bread supplied the most sodium, at 6.3 percent of the total, followed by pizza at 6.2 percent. Sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, and soups rounded out the top 5.
Most of the sodium people consumed—61 percent—came from grocery stores, with fast food places contributing 17 percent and sit-down restaurants at 11 percent. Still, the food the people ate at the restaurants provided more sodium per calorie than food purchased at stores did.
There’s a lot of controversy out there about who really needs to cut sodium. Eating lots of sodium can increase your blood pressure since it makes your blood retain more water, which is a problem if you already have hypertension.
In that case, guys with high blood pressure should shoot for 1,500 mg of sodium a day, and include at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily, too, says Men’s Health cardiology adivisor Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D. That’s because potassium helps your body counteract the effects of sodium.
But if you’re a young, healthy guy who generally eats a well-balanced diet, a salty meal shouldn’t hurt you, says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, M.D.
Additional reporting by Ali Eaves
Related: Why Salt Can Be Good For You