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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4LMHJCR 7/4/2017
I haven't gotten Chinese food in years but have always enjoyed the egg drop soup as well as the hot and sour soup. I know that the hot and sour soup is extremely high in sodium and have been doing some experimenting to try and come up with a healthy version to make and enjoy at home - without all that sodium and fat. It is funny how lots of folks just assume that all Chinese take out is healthy. Report
I have read recently that people with high blood pressure should lower their sodium intake to around 1500mg daily. I try really hard, and make it most days, but it is nearly impossible if you eat out, or eat any processed foods. Amazing to me how many otherwise healthy foods are knocked off my list by high sodium, like chili..which I only eat at home after visiting the nutrition sites of restaurants. One of the best choices I have found is the sour cream and chives baked potato at Wendy's. I also use seasalt at home and even carry a tiny pack of it in my purse to use when eating out, I am also not ashamed of carrying an ounce size container of my own salad dressing when I know I will be eating out. Report
Planning a meal, for me, is a real scientific juggling act. I have congestive heart failure, so I seriously must watch my sodium & potassium intake. That is the #1 thing that enticed me to using Spark People again. I can track both of these. I've been in the hospital for retaining fluid.......everyone telling me to watch my sodium intake. Then, I read an article that high sodium intake may not be the problem as much as LOW potassium intake. I'm monitoring both on sparkpeople and haven't been back in the hospital in awhile. Now, I need to learn how to monitor the vitamin K that my nurse says is NOT potassium......I'm taking warfarin daily since bypass surgery. Any comments on vitamin K vs. potassium ???? Thank You. Report
Just had RNY surgery and am getting ready to start eating real food now. Even though I've always tried to keep the sodium level down my problem now is getting enough protein. It's good to see if I'm out that I can still have a Jr burger from Wendy's or a Grilled Chicken sandwich from KFC (I always have my burgers and sandwiches plain) and get my protein. I don't eat out often but it's good to know my choices have been right all along. Report
I genarally avoid all restaurant soups, choosing a salad with dressing on the side instead. I have heart failure, so I am keenly aware of the interplay between pottasium and sodium. For sources of pottasium, kiwifruit have higher pottasium than bananas. Dried plums and dried apricots are good. Many yogurts have potassium. Beans, melons, and tomaoes also have potassium. Be caution using canned and frozen foods, they may add addition salt as a preservative. In terms of fast food, I do enjoy a McDonald hamburger once in a while and the veggie delight sandwich at Subway. Report
Low Potassium can also be caused by Diuretics. If your taking Diuretics and not taking a Potassium supplement ask your doctor to have your potassium level tested. Look to yellow and orange fruits and vegetables for nature's source of Potassium. Report
This is great info! Report
I try not to cook with no salt at all just add hot sauce to my food Report
I've been trying to watch my sodium and have added it to my food tracker but will now add potassium too, so I can check my ratio-- great information! Report
Although I have long been aware of the dangers of too much sodium, this was a great reminder and very informative. Having grown up with a dietitian for a mom and a maternal grandmother (who lived with us) and a father who were diabetics, we never added salt to anything. So I was always very aware of how salty restaurant and fast foods are. Don't you think some of the high cost of health care and insurance would go down if everyone was more knowledgable about and took steps to reduce the sodium in their diets? Report
great article: I try not to eat fast food except on vacation and then I try to get their salads. Sodium is a killer cuz it can sneakupon you so fast if you don't check the labels, expecially anything in a can. I try to use fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible and find frozen are less in Sodium. I have become a label reader and that keeps me conscience of what I am putting into my cooking. We all consume too much sodium every daytting in things. I wish we were back in the farming days and we grew our own food. We just have to be really aware, especially with the summer coming, Sodium makes be swell like a larger balloon than I really am, don't need the help, thanks.
Wishing us all a low sodium day, Diane Report
Busier or lazier? I'm sure that the dually-employed household has also had an effect. I wonder if you polled people twenty to twenty-five, how many would say that they know how to cook? Compared to that age group in the seventies or that group at that moment(fifty-five-ish)? Report
I've known about the high sodium in foods for a long time. Fast food restaurants started having nutrition sheets available here in Canada years ago. I also started reading lables about 13 years ago when I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. Now I read them even closer because my brother has Celiac Disease. This is no surprise to me. Report
I just about fell back on behind when I read how much sodium is in that soup! Good Lord!! I don't even know how ppl are eating that w/o feeling like crap afterward. Anywho, I def try to watch my sodium, I seem to go over the 2300 most days by a couple hundred. I am working on that though. Thanks SP for always being so informative. I sure appreciate you! Report
I love hot and sour soup and make my own at home that is low in sodium and tastes good. It's easy to make...I've never eaten at PF Changs, but I used to order it as restaurants and it's just as bad, I suspect. Report
Thanks for the info. I have been battling with sodium intake the past few months. Between sodium and caffiene, I overindulged for many years and gave my blood pressure a reason to go high and stay high. Now I have cut both back and am working towards losing the weight I need to. Report
Thanks for the info. I have been battling with sodium intake the past few months. Between sodium and caffiene, I overindulged for many years and gave my blood pressure a reason to go high and stay high. Now I have cut both back and am working towards losing the weight I need to. Report
I try to cook low-sodium for my dad's sake (water on the heart issues). It's been hard, but we've found the few restaurants he can go to and the things he can order. The really hard part is finding the balance between salt, fat and sugar. These being the three main flavors for Western palettes, as one goes down, the others go up. We've starting enjoying a broader cuisine with different flavorings. Report
I can't believe how much salt is in Hot and Sour Soup! Here it has always been a favorite of mine. With heart problems, I sure don't plan on having Hot and Sour Soup in the future. Too bad, I loved it. Some of the other foods are also a surprise. I am glad I use more sea salt now instead of the regular salt. It is much better. Especially for my heart! Thank You Spark People! Report
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I like it when you guys do the research for me. Saves me ooodles of time. Report
Very helpful. Thanks! Report
I won't do anything different because I already don't eat fast food. As Doctor Peake says, fast food and packaged food aren't food, they are science projects. I would be more interested in a comparison of naturally occuring sodium in real food rather than how much a fast food joint adds to it when they process the hell out of it. Report
I've never liked the taste of salt, so I switched to sea salt several years ago. It is way better tasting and better for you, I still use very little and usually go for the reduced sodium foods. I get enough from just normal eating and can sure tell when I eat too much-giant puff ball drinking lemon water next 2 days. Report
The PF Chang soup surprised me! and so did Taco Bell's new improved image--I used to get fat fingers from eating there.
I confess I understand the sodium thing as little as I do putting sugar into Pringle's potato chips. Some things just don't make sense. Report
Yikes, that is a lot of salt! One more thing to worry about... Report
Supposedly dried apricots are a good source of potassium. Report
When I get to my finally goal weight and maintain, I'll remember all these GOOD eat out items. Report
I like how you show different fast food options and the sodium they have in them but I do know for me eating at say Taco bell had many more calories then one needs if you eat four items it can be most of the calories allowed for the day in one meal like say for me 1700 cals and I had 2potato burritos, one taco and something else so the sodium and cals were off the roof. Won't do that aagain I hope. Report
Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I'm glad to know now just how much sodium and potassium I need and the foods I need to avoid and eat to maintain balance. Report
I agree with WendyRS. I didn't realize the connection between sodium and potassium and will work on that, because according to SP calculator, I get way to much sodium most days and never reach recommended levels of potassium. So I am working on those.

Since being with SP and monitoring my nutrition more closely, I have been shocked at just how much sodium I get. My choices when I eat out seem to be good. I seldom pick things that are high in sodium. I have learned that a lot of mine comes from the canned goods I choose. So I am working to replenish my stock with lower sodium choices. Once that is accomplished, I will see what needs to change next. Report
Watch your spice mixes and flavorings for sodium too. I've found that some mixes to make salad dressings or dips have salt as the first or second ingredient. Noticed a couple of months ago that my favorite curry powder was high in salt, so I'm trying others out.
I've been cooking without salt and watching labels for nearly 30 years for my husband's high blood pressure. I tend to low blood pressure, even been rejected for giving blood because of it twice, so occasionally I need a bit more than my husband.
Breakfast cereals can be real culprits, and bread has more than you might think. My husband has been making the Cook's Illustrated No Knead Bread for a while and has adjusted the salt level way down. You do need to be aware with yeast breads of the interaction between the yeast and the salt. Report
I read the Eat This, Not That article. Wow. Now I know why I don't like eating at Chili's! I was surprised at how many times their food showed up on the list, along with Romano's Macaroni Grill (which I never eat at either).

I started tracking my sodium on SP a few months ago. Sadly, I go over 2300 mg almost every day. It's very hard to limit the sodium, and I am eating mostly at home! Still, I am working on it. And now I'm going to add potassium to my Tracker as well. Thanks for the heads up! Report
I've been watching the sodium for a while now and I've avoided fast food pretty well. Also when reading labels at the market after calories that's the next thing I look for and salt shakers are non-existent in my house! Report
Like many, I'm sure, I was surprised how much my sodium intake was after starting SP. High blood pressure runs in my family, so I am trying to change~~ Report
I ate mushroom chicken and asparagus chicken at Panda Express and every bite was like eating a spoonful of salt. I didn't stop but I will not eat there again. Why do restaurants use so much salt in their food? I just wrote a blog about my experience last weekend. I think the overuse of salt is hurting people more than they think. Report
Great information, thanks for sharing. Report
I have given up on fast food. Every day I take my lunch to work and I do everything I can to pack a lunch before I leave on a road trip. If I am doing a lot of traveling then I fall back on salads and use a fraction of the dressing provided. Report
Thanks for the post - I didn't know about the sodium:potassium ratio before! As for high sodium foods: if you cook at home using whole, close to the source ingredients, you will not run into problems with sodium - even Chinese food can be healthy when made at home, as I write in my blog! Report
While I knew we needed less sodium and that most of us also need *more* potassium in our diets, I hadn't heard about the 1:2 sodium-to-potassium ratio before! Thanks for sharing that!

This is informative but scary! I added sodium to my tracker recently and although I usually choose healthy, natural and "whole" foods...I am often over (sometimes WAY OVER) in sodium. HELP! While I've had low blood pressure in the past, it has been slowly creeping upward. I don't want to develop a problem so welcome any suggestions. THANKS SparkPeople for providing the information and the tools to help me be more aware of a possible problem and to take the steps to nip it in the bud! Report
that is way too much sodium in that meal! even though i do not have any trouble now with my blood pressure, i still watch my sodium intake. years ago,my blood pressure was high. now, my blood pressure is normal and i intend to keep it that way. there is heart disease on both sides of my family. that would explain the bloated feeling i get after eating a meal out. i used to eat out several times a week. i have cut that back to once a week, if i feel like it. i,too,notice that my weight goes up whenever i have too much sodium. since i joined sparkpeople, i have cut my sodium intake to half of what it was, just by eating out less and by eating fresh foods more often,instead of processed food all the time. thanks for the information on sodium and on potassium. Report
OMG 6,878 mg of sodium in one sitting???!!! I could see someone's blood pressure through the roof. It's hard to control the amount of sodium in my diet if i ate out a lot. That's exactly why I don't eat out often (maybe once every few months). I always bring food to work and have my energy bars in my car, my backpack, and my gym locker. Never want to go hungry and end up caving in. Report
Ok my calorie intake per day is around 3600, I am 6'6" weigh 215 and do 60 or more minutes of cardio 5 days a week along with weight training and other things. What is my range then for sodium and potassium? I think the numers you give are based on a 2000 calorie diet per day? Report
I would like to hear some ideas how to get potassium in your diet. I've been working hard to reduce sodium, but I am always low on potassium. If I trade out beans and brown rice for potato or sweet potato, then my fiber is low. I eat a banana almost daily and lots of other fresh fruit including oranges. I just am not getting my potassium. HOW? Report
we are trying to limit sodium. Very hard to do.... Have about 1-2 days a week under at this point. Packaged meals, reduced fat and wheat = higher sodium. How do you get whole grain wheat when you are trying to wattch sodium too?

I have gone back to regular potato chips when I have to have them due to sodium content Report
I have learned to really look for the sodium because of High Blood Pressure. WOW Report
I'm almost always in my potassium range and usually only slightly over my sodium range. However, I don't count salt that I add to my food at dinner or lunch, so I'm probably getting a little more than I count. Report
I was very concerned about potassium too, and one of our Spark Experts said that we are actually getting much more potassium in our diets than we realize. Since the gov't doesn't require potassium on food labels, most companies don't add it. My doc checks my potassium every 6 months and it's always fine, so I don't worry about it too much. After all, too much potassium can kill you too. Report
sodium is everywhere. lunch meats to breakfast cereals Report
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