Salt Shockers: Discovering the Hidden Sources of Sodium in Your Diet

We all know that snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, corn chips, and crackers are some of the “saltiest” foods available today.  But did you know about these foods called “The Salty Six” by the American Heart Association?  As a dietitian working in healthcare, I have used this handout with my patients many times, and now I am sharing it with you.

Where are Americans are Getting Most of Our Sodium?

1.  Bread, Bagels, and Rolls 

Several loafs of bread placed on a table to emphasize the presence of sodium.

Your first thought is probably…What??? But, it’s true.  Bread and rolls are processed foods that typically contain A LOT of sodium considering they are usually a small part of a meal.  Sodium is added to bread for more flavor, to improve texture, and to act as a preservative, making your bread last longer.  One slice of loaf bread has anywhere from 100mg to 200mg.   A plain bagel has about 430mg and rolls can vary from 100-500mg depending on size and preparation method. For lower sodium options, try Dave’s Killer Bread–Thin Sliced with 60mg per slice, Nature’s Own 40 Calorie Honey Wheat with 70mg per slice, and Ezekiel Sprouted Bread with 75mg per slice.

2. Pizza 

A hand reaching for a slice of high sodium pepperoni pizza

Yes, we all love pizza.  I love pizza. Pizza is made up of very salty ingredients.  The bread is high in sodium.  The tomato sauce is high in sodium. And the cheese is very high in sodium.  Put that all together and that can add up to anywhere from 500-1000mg per slice.  If you add pepperoni or sausage, sodium can approach 1500mg in ONE SLICE! Pro tip: Buy a pizza crust or pizza dough at the grocery store. Make your own simple pizza. Leave off the meat, go light on the cheese, and pile on fresh veggies! 

3. Sandwiches 

Sandwiches are often made with super salty ingredients.  As we learned above, bread has a lot of sodium.  Add lunch meat, mayonnaise, cheese, and pickles, and you may use up your entire daily sodium allotment with just one sandwich!  There are ways around this, and you can still make a delicious sandwich that is healthy for you without these ingredients. If you eat meat, avoid cured meats, choosing natural options. Use fresh tomato, cucumber slices, onion, and vinegar for flavor. Ditch the cheese. Use condiment listed in my article: The Ultimate Guide to Low Sodium Condiments! For an extra healthy sandwich spread, try a low sodium hummus like Yorgo’s 60mg sodium per serving or Whole Foods Original Hummus with 105mg/serving

4. Lunch Meat, Cold Cuts, and Cured Meats  


These meats are a staple of many people’s diets.  The problem is that most lunchmeat and cured meats contain a whole lot of sodium.  One ounce of bologna, turkey, or ham contains over 250mg of sodium.  The same goes for sausage.  Bacon comes in at nearly double with ~500mg.  That’s because these meats are made with the preservative sodium nitrate. 

My suggestion is to avoid these highly processed meat products which are often high in fat as well as sodium.  If you eat meat, buy lower sodium versions like Good and Gather (Target) Lower Sodium Lunch Meat or unsalted home-cooked meats that you slice yourself.  Better yet, ditch the meat and cheese. Pile sandwiches with veggies, hummus, or nut butters. It can be hard to change a habit you may have had for years but in the case of lunch meat and cured meats, it is worth it.  

5.  Soup  


Canned soup is the ultimate convenience food.  You just open up a can and heat it up  Soup is also one of the first foods that people reach for when they are sick. It is warming and comforting on a cold winter day.  Soup is also extremely high in sodium with ½ cup of Campbell’s vegetable soup providing a whopping 890mg of sodium. 

I had a really hard time finding low sodium soups. Every can I picked up in the grocery store was loaded with salt.  You can avoid this needless source of sodium by making a large pot of homemade soup and freezing it in individual serving containers.

Here is a brand available at some local grocery stores and on Amazon: Health Valley No Salt Added Organic Vegetable Soup or Health Valley No Salt Added Organic Minestrone are some of the only truly low sodium soups out there. A “lower sodium” favorite is Amy’s Light In Sodium Minestrone Soup though it still has 270mg per cup.

6. Tacos and Burritos  


From the shell to the fillings, tacos and burritos are full of sodium.  They typically contain cheese, sauces, salsas, and fillings made with salt.  Tacos and burritos are can be very high in saturated fat too.  I looked, but there really aren’t any low sodium prepared tacos out there. So these are best to avoid. It just isn’t worth the negative health effects. 

Luckily, it is easy to make tacos and burritos on your own with heart-healthy low sodium ingredients.  You really don’t need to do much cooking. For example, use fresh lettuce and tomato, no salt canned beans, and lean protein sources. Carefully control the portions of higher sodium toppings and can make your own heart-healthy versions.

My Take on the Salty Six 

The thing that stands out to me about this list is that the top sources of sodium in the American diet come from convenience foods. I also can’t help but notice that these food are some of our favorite foods.

So, I am planning to make sure that this blog has plenty of heart failure friendly solutions for you. I will have low sodium versions of these foods as well as low sodium convenience foods for when you just don’t have the time and energy to cook.  

I hope this review has been helpful as well as eye-opening.  I know it was for me!

Don’t forget to use the search bar and check it out the rest of my blog. And be sure to sign up for my email list for your free guide to low sodium restaurant eating!


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