Food on the Run: Top Eight Choices for the Sodium Conscious


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Men's Health Magazine and the authors of Eat This Not That recently released The Saltiest Foods in America 2009 list. They looked at many different categories of fast foods, comfort foods and snacks.

What was the saltiest food in America for 2009?

P.F. Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Bowl with 6,878 mg of sodium which is equal to 208 saltine crackers. This soup is also unhealthy in other ways since it contains 534 calories and 20 grams of fat as well. As we have seen in our ongoing Food on the Run series, many fast foods are high in sodium. What is too high? Since many of us don't have a framework regarding how much sodium is too much, let's take a quick look at sodium to help put things in perspective.

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. In the correct amount, it helps the body maintain fluid balance. When there is too much sodium in the body, it changes the fluid balance and causes the body to react in different ways to try and correct things. One teaspoon of salt provides 2,300 mg of sodium which is all most people need each day. When you exercise and are losing sodium with increased perspiration, more is needed. This is another benefit of exercise. Regular cardio activity that causes you to sweat can help compensate for an increased intake of sodium when potassium and fluids are replaced appropriately.

There are sodium labeling guidelines set by the FDA.
  • Sodium Free – contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very Low Sodium - contains 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
  • Low Sodium - contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
  • Reduced Sodium - contains 25 percent less sodium than the usual sodium level
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt - contains the sodium that is a natural part of the food itself but is made without any additional salt that may normally be added

Sodium consumption in the United States has risen over the last few decades. In the 1970's, the average sodium intake has been figured to be around 2,300 mg compared to today when it is more than 3,300 mg. We are also living busier lives than we did in the 1970's. Researchers have found that 77 percent of the sodium consumed today comes from processed foods and restaurants.

Here are some smart steps to keep in mind as you focus on sodium -
  • Work to reduce your daily sodium intake with a goal of 2300 mg per day or less.
  • Avoid electrolyte containing drinks such as Gatorade or fitness waters unless you are exercising for more than 60 minutes outdoors in hot humid conditions when electrolyte losses are sustained. Do replace potassium and fluid losses with a potassium rich snack like a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of raisins or a glass of milk and plenty of water after exercise.
  • Use food labels and restaurant nutrition guides to help you make informed decisions as you shop and eat away from home.
  • Select entrιes that contain 600 mg of sodium or less with no more than one of these entrιes per day.
  • Pay attention to your potassium intake making sure you are getting more than 4700 mg per day. Studies are showing that the sodium to potassium ratio could be as important as the amount of sodium you eat. Aim for a 1:2 ratio of sodium to potassium each day. When eating away from home, select several higher potassium side items such as a carton of milk, 100% orange juice, a fruit cup, carrots, raisins, baked potato or sweet potato with your higher sodium entrιe.

Here are eight of the best lower sodium entrιe options when eating on the run.

Taco Bell Fresco Crunchy Taco
Calories – 150
Fat – 8 grams
Sodium – 370 mg
Protein – 7 grams

Subway Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Salad
Calories – 140
Fat – 2.5 grams
Sodium – 390 mg
Protein – 19 grams

KFC Grilled Chicken Breast
Calories – 180
Fat – 4 grams
Sodium – 440 mg
Protein – 35 grams

Wendy's Jr. Hamburger
Calories – 230
Fat – 8 grams
Sodium – 490 mg
Protein – 13 grams

Subway Veggie Delite Sandwich – 6 inch serving
Calories – 230
Fat – 3 grams
Sodium – 500 mg
Protein – 9 grams

McDonald's Hamburger
Calories – 250
Fat – 9 grams
Sodium – 520 mg
Protein – 12 grams

KFC Original Recipe Chicken Breast without skin or breading
Calories – 140
Fat – 2 grams
Sodium – 520 mg
Protein – 29 grams

Taco Bell Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco
Calories – 160
Fat – 4.5 grams
Sodium – 550 mg
Protein – 10 grams

What new things have you learned about sodium? What will you do differently when eating on the run and trying to limit sodium?

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  • 29
    I already closely watch sodium intake, I lost a kidney in a rock climbing accident in 2003 so I have to read all the labels and be careful... so far, doing great. - 5/21/2009   3:48:53 PM
  • 28
    Getting the amount of potassium is a real challenge if you cannot eat around 2500 calories or better a day with most food combinations people trend towards. I keep looking at new ways to get it up to 2:1 ratio, but I fear I'm just not cut out to be that kind of vegetarian. And using the potassium salts to help "add" that in not only make things taste too salty, but dont leave me feeling real good over the long term. The salts are natural enough, just not the best way to go about it.

    The suggestion about loading up on potassium with high salt foods? That 400mg or so of potassium is barely going to dent the 2000 mg of sodium a typical on the go or even sit down resturant meal has in it.

    Salt is a great preservative and covers up lack of other flavors. Sadly this seems to be what food providers think we want/need over more sane ways of preservation/flavor control.

    - 5/21/2009   3:23:24 PM
  • 27
    the sodium in food is horrid !!! I do not have salt on my table and my kids do not seem to miss it .. you need to taste your food.. I hate it when that is the first thing people want to add to food.. I have eaten with people that add salt to each piece of some thing that they eat yuck !!! I try and not add it to my food but i do add some.. My dad could not have it so i grew up with not having a lot of it and did not miss out on a thing.. I have noticed if i eat at a restaurant i feel bad from the sodium - 5/21/2009   2:04:32 PM
    How big is that PF Chang's bowl of soup that it contains close to 7,000mgs of salt ??? That's astonishing. Of course, one can of Progresso soup can contain over 1,500+ mgs of salt too. I never really realized how much salt was in certain products until I started reading labels. It's insane !

    While I don't eat at fast food joints anymore, it's nice to know that they are trying to give healthier options for its customers. - 5/21/2009   1:58:57 PM
  • 25
    my average potassium intake is 2,500, how in the WORLD do people get over 4,700? I eat lots of potassium-rich foods, but apparently just not enough of them! - 5/21/2009   12:16:34 PM
    Wow, I didn't know about the sodium to potassium ratio! I am adding potassium to my tracker now. For lunchmeats, I only buy low sodium. I have had low sodium turkey and bologna and I find they actually taste BETTER than regular. Frozen meals are better than they used to be, but they are still bad. I used to have 1 a week for a convenient lunch. Went to the store last week and when I read the labels on most of them, I was startled. I only bought 2 and am saving them for rare 'lunch emergencies' when I really have nothing else in the house to throw together. - 5/21/2009   11:56:27 AM
  • 23
    Since my husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure 3 years ago, we have cut way down on our sodium. It was an eye opener when we started reading labels. Be sure to compare the different brands. For instance, one big brand of reduced sodium chicken broth is actually higher in sodium than the cheaper store brand that doesn't have reduced sodium. There are salt substitues out there that are actually potassium. We use that instead and in smaller quantities than we did with salt. I wish our grocery stores carried more salt free items. They are really hard to find in small town grocery stores. - 5/21/2009   11:45:35 AM
    I cut back on additional salt years ago when my father suffered a heart attack and was instructed to do so. I agree that you can actually taste the food so much better once you get used to doing without the extra salt. - 5/21/2009   11:18:20 AM
  • 21
    Thanks for the good article. I have a high family history of high blood pressure and strokes. I am trying to manage my blood pressure. It ok now but I do have to watch it. The article gave me some good ideas. I hate the fact that eating out and pre packaged foods are so high in salt. I don't use salt. - 5/21/2009   11:07:23 AM
  • 20
    I think it's CRIMINAL that there is so much Sodium in restaurants & fast food places!!! The government, who is always sticking their noses in our business for lesser "crimes" should pay closer attention to how these food outlets are KILLING their citizens! Make it stop - - so families will have healthy places to eat and take their families to for treats once in a while. - 5/21/2009   10:59:55 AM
  • 19
    I recently made a lovely soup using reduced sodium chicken broth, but I felt really bloated the next day. As I was putting the recipe in my SP recipe file, I realized the sodium content was 550 per cup ... not what I consider low sodium. I changed my recipe to use very low sodium and stocked up on Pacific Natural broth the next time I went to the grocery. Thanks for the timely article! - 5/21/2009   10:52:45 AM
  • 18
    A while back on the recommendation of a fellow sparker, I added sodium to my nutrition tracker so I could better manage my intake. I've been doing pretty well since then. This article has enlightened me to the fact that I may be needlessly consuming additional sodium via my Propel Mixes that I add to my water. Surprise! Well, I'll be cutting back on that as well and replacing with other tricky ways to cover the taste of our water.... such as "Essence of Mojto" (
    ) or "Cucumber Spearmint Water" (
    The list is actually endless with options, now that I put energy into looking for them! - 5/21/2009   10:39:02 AM
  • 17
    Glad to see someone point out the over usages of salt......I only use salt for a sore throat. I have no salt in my house & never THINK about using it. Once you stop salting your food, you will be surprised at how good food can REALLY taste! - 5/21/2009   10:29:33 AM
  • 16
    i try to avoid it as much as possible... it is hard it is everywhere... glad to see a list of fast foods that are lower to choose from! - 5/21/2009   10:27:24 AM
    Sodium can be such a silent killer. It is truly important to watch what we eat but not just the calories and carbs fats but as well as sodium. thanks for the article - 5/21/2009   10:18:25 AM
  • 14
    um, WOW!!!
    We eat a reduced sodium diet due to my husband's BP. I used to love salt and it's amazing how well I've adapted to a low sodium diet. So it CAN be done :-)
    These foods are outrageous! There is just no need... reduce the sodium and let people add their own salt if they want. - 5/21/2009   10:08:23 AM
  • 13
    Sodium is also used as a preservative. It gives them a longer shelf life. That is why so many prepackaged foods have so much in them.

    I have gotten off 2 of my 3 BP meds by cutting down on sodium & losing weight but I still fight trying to get enough potassium. NO Salt is a salt substitue made of potassium and that can help a lot but I have gotten to the place that I can't stand the taste of salt even the No Salt. - 5/21/2009   9:51:27 AM
  • 12
    I have high BP, so already restrict my sodium intake, but I have a hard time taking in 4.7 grams of potassium. Even SP suggested (for me) daily menu doesn't hit that elusive mark often. Supplements are a joke 'cause they seem to only come in 99 milligram tabs (at my local WMT) and that's a tiny dent in that 4700 milligram target. So what's an old gal to do? - 5/21/2009   9:29:03 AM
    I think it's ridiculous that there is so much sodium in restaurant food, we try to avoid eating out any more, we get so thirsty afterwards. I don't use salt at home while cooking, so we find it extra salty everywhere we go! - 5/21/2009   9:29:00 AM
  • 10
    I definitely watch my sodium since I am on a bp med. Hopefully once my mind goes along with my body, I will no longer have to. I love McDonald's Hamburgers, so that's one of my fav choices if I got to Mickey Ds! - 5/21/2009   9:20:35 AM
  • 9
    I have cut down on my sodium by cooking with No Salt. I try to eat fresh vegetables and fresh fruit even when I eat out. I suppose I could take No Salt with me when I go out but I don't eat out often and so that little salt shouldn't hurt me. - 5/21/2009   9:16:46 AM
  • 8
    I have been watching my sodium but had no clue about the potassium ratio. I will be adding that to my tracker as well. - 5/21/2009   9:15:30 AM
  • 7
    This was a great article. I never salt/season foods with anything other than herbs. However there is alot of "hidden" salt in foods that we eat everyday. - 5/21/2009   9:07:48 AM
    This is a good article. I am learning alot as I go along on my weight-loss journey. One very important thing that I have recently learned, is that to much sodium prevents me from losing weight. I actually tend to gain weight when I add my favorite seasoning Adobo to my foods. This article can further help me on my quest to eliminate excess sodium from my food choices. - 5/21/2009   9:02:19 AM
  • 5
    I second the comment about prepackaged deli meats. Also, a lot of frozen entrees have a lot of sodium in them (probably to counter the decreased flavor due to freezing). Schwans chicken tortilla soup is particularly bad. I've even written whole blog posts about the subject:
    - 5/21/2009   8:58:56 AM
  • HARTMACY2722
    Thanks not only for the suggestions of places/items to eat that are lower in sodium, but also for the suggestions of things higher in potassium that are available out. These are also things that I need to watch for as I have high BP and need to be aware of my potassium also. - 5/21/2009   8:25:19 AM
  • SZNN4570
    Thanks for the 8 options listed. If I need to grab something, I know where to go. - 5/21/2009   8:11:29 AM
  • 2
    OH yeah. Sodium is EVERYWHERE! I've been "preaching" 1,000 - 2,400 mg sodium to my SP Class team that I'm a leader of SO MUCH. It's not so surprising that so many people aren't aware of how much sodium they're ingesting and where sodium hides as we are a generation raised on salt and sugars. Those hide the true tastes of food. I've found that what most people consider "taste" is actually the taste of salts.
    Those ready mix seasoning packets are LOADED with sodium, but we generally don't take that into consideration when shopping, so I've pointed that out as well. I make my own taco seasonings etc rather than the store boughts.
    I wrote an EXTENSIVE thread regarding sodium on the SP Class team last year and a lot of eyes were opened.
    - 5/21/2009   8:06:07 AM
  • 1
    I've learned to avoid luncheon meats. So many of them are packed with sodium. - 5/21/2009   8:01:37 AM

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