Salt is made up of sodium and chloride – it’s the sodium that can be bad for your health.
There’s salt in almost everything we eat and over the years we’ve developed a tendency to add extra salt as well.
But most of it isn’t being added at the stove or table – it’s hidden in the every day processed food we buy. And, a lot of the time you can’t even taste it!
Processed foods are not just snacks like salty crisps and savoury biscuits. It’s any food that has been altered in some way (frozen, dried, tinned, packaged) for preservation, safety or for convenience. It’s in a good deal of the items found on supermarket shelves.
Top 10 Salt Shockers
You may be shocked – some of them don’t even taste salty!
*All sodium figures have been sourced from nutritional databases FoodWorks and Australia and New Zealand Food Standards’ NUTTAB.
You may not realise that little squeeze of sauce, relish or dressing you add to your favourite stir-fry, sandwich or salad can be also stacked with sodium. Many popular condiments like tomato sauce, pickles, relish, soy sauce, mustard and marinades rely on high sodium content to achieve a concentrated flavour.
Your taste buds might not even taste the salt:
Sodium per serve = 1 tablespoon
Sweet chilli sauce – 139mg
BBQ sauce – 147mg
Honey soy marinade – 255mg
Teriyaki stir fry sauce – 1377mg
These are only for a small serve, but if you like a lot sauce on your sausages or steak, the sodium can really start to stack up.
And, while you may be able to taste the salt in store-bought gravy mixes and stocks, they pack more of a sodium punch than your taste buds let on with almost all brands having extremely high levels of sodium.
Olives, capers, gherkins and anything pickled are also sodium culprits, as pickling requires a salty brine to preserve.
2. Bread, rolls and wraps
A panini, pita or bagel might not taste very salty, but one bagel can contain 490mg of sodium depending on size and flavour. Breads by their very nature contain sodium as salt is an essential ingredient in the baking process.
If you’re a bread lover and toast and sandwiches form a good portion of your daily diet, then you could be blowing out your maximum sodium intake for the day with this one food product alone, particularly if you are eating them with salty spreads and fillings.
Sodium contents per meal item
Two slices of toast with butter and vegemite – 717mg 2 x slices of white bread (356mg), 5g butter (61mg), 10g vegemite (300mg)
Ham and cheese sandwich – 1162 mg 2 x slices white bread (356mg), 50g ham (635mg), 25g cheddar cheese (171mg)
Ciabatta with salami and Swiss cheese – 1887mg 1 x Ciabatta bread (625mg), 3 x salami slices (1032mg), 2 x Swiss cheese slices (230mg)
It’s important to remember that despite the sodium content, bread is a rich source of other essential nutrients like complex carbohydrates, fibre and vitamin B. To avoid excessive salt intake choose the brands with lower sodium content and avoid using fillings and spreads which are high in salt.
3. Baked goods
Sweet baked goods can be loaded with hidden salt. While we’re busy worrying about the sugar content of store-bought sugary treats, they are sneakily misleading our taste buds when it comes to salt.
Sodium content per serve
Salted caramel slice – 221mg
One fruit muffin – 410mg
One donut – 458mg
Pancakes and maple syrup – 765mg
Like bread, salt is used in the making and preserving of many cheeses and cheese products, yet often we don’t think of them as being very salty.
Not surprisingly rich cheeses like blue, gorgonzola, and camembert are among the saltiest.
However, even regular cheeses we eat every day, like cheddar (262mg) and cottage cheese (319mg), can really add to our sodium intake if we are having several serves a day. A tablespoon of cheese spread on the kids’ toast or sandwiches can add 297mg to their daily total – that’s nearly a quarter of their intake alone!
5. Canned soups, stews and vegetables
They may be packed with legumes or vegetables, but canned soups are often also packed with salt. Regardless of what flavour most store-bought soups – tinned, cup-of soups or sachets – contain up to 1300mg of sodium per serve. That’s more than a third of your maximum daily intake. And that’s per serve, which is usually half a can. If you’re eating the whole can – then that’s about 75% of your maximum daily intake.
Another shock lurks in some types of canned vegetables. One cup of chickpeas contains 375 mg of sodium, and a half a cup of tomatoes with Italian herbs can have around 400mg. These foods can be high in fibre or rich in nutrients, so it’s a case of picking the low sodium brand or draining and rinsing the brine from the vegetables before using them to make sure you’re minimising the salt content.
6. Breakfast cereals
Store-bought breakfast cereals vary widely in salt content from brand to brand. Some of the popular brands have reformulated in recent years due to pressure from consumers and health regulators, but some may remain quite high. It’s best to read nutrition information panels to choose the lower sodium product. As a general rule, breakfast cereals like oats, unsweetened muesli, and whole wheat biscuits are healthier breakfast options without the salty hit.
7. Deli meats
One sausage has up to 572 mg of sodium. One rasher of bacon has 535mg. That’s one third of your maximum daily intake. And that’s just the beginning. One serve of salami has 688 mg, one serve of kabana 493mg and one serve of lean shoulder ham has a surprising 647mg!
Deli meats are often a lunch-time staple for whole family. There are reduced salt deli meats available, but be sure to read the label to check the actual amount of sodium per serve.
8. Family favourites
Some of the pantry favourites we’ve been serving up to the whole family for generations are packed with sodium.
Some of these will shock you!
Sodium content per serve
Macaroni and cheese
9. Ready-made meals
Convenient and popular, frozen dinners and ready-made meal bases like pasta stir-throughs and Asian sauces, may contain high levels of sodium. Even some ‘reduced kilojoule’ options contain more sodium than an adult should consume in one meal.
Sodium per product
Frozen fish fingers (serve)
Reduced calorie frozen dinner
Small frozen Lasagna
Chicken nuggets (6 nuggets)
Frozen Hawaiian Pizza
10. Fast food, including “healthy” choices
It’s probably no shock that burgers and fries aren’t the best choices when trying to avoid salt, but where many people may be having more salt than they realise is in “healthier” choices such as salads and sandwiches. These foods can also contain higher levels of sodium hidden in their fillings, sauces and dressings.
A six-inch chicken teriyaki sub has more than 1149 mg of sodium, while your average café-style chicken Caesar salad with dressing has 1133mg. Compare that to a cheeseburger (which has 672mg) where you expect to find salt. Another taste bud misinterpretation!
Multicultural flavours and cuisines can also be stacked with sodium.