In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration released guidelines for voluntary sodium reduction in certain processed foods and restaurant dishes. The end goal is to reduce the sodium in these foods by one-third over the next 10 years.
The Salt Institute, the trade association for the salt industry, issued a press release saying the recommendations are "tantamount to malpractice and inexcusable in the face of years of scientific evidence" and will limit people's choices in food. However, the health benefits realized in other countries that have voluntary sodium targets have been measurable, including about a 40 percent decrease in deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke in the United Kingdom. A 2018 study also favors the Salt Institute's stance and shows that a diet low in sodium can be just as damaging as a high-sodium one. The study surveyed more than 90,000 people in more than 300 countries and found that consuming very low levels of sodium can contribute to heart attacks and death.
"Our study adds to growing evidence to suggest that, at moderate intake, sodium may have a beneficial role in cardiovascular health, but a potentially more harmful role when intake is very high or very low. This is the relationship we would expect for any essential nutrient and health. Our bodies need essential nutrients like sodium, but the question is how much," said the study's lead author professor Andrew Mente from the Population Health Research Institute of Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends we consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, the average American eats closer to 3,500 mg a day. (If you're over 50, African-American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the USDA recommends cutting your intake to 1,500 mg a day.)
I doubt we'll be seeing big changes for a while, but when we do, here are some common foods that should definitely be first in line for sodium reduction. You'll be surprised how much sodium they contain.
1. Eggo Buttermilk Pancakes: A serving of this ready-to-toast breakfast food has 590 mg of sodium, or about 25 percent of the current recommended daily intake.
2. Fiber One Honey Clusters: One cup of this cereal has 210 mg of sodium, or 9 percent of a day's worth of sodium. Since many people eat more than one cup of cereal at at time, the sodium in this cereal could really add up by the time you're done, especially with the additional 54 mg of sodium added from a half cup of milk.
3. V8 juice: There may be only 50 calories per 8-ounce serving, but there are 640 mg of sodium in that same glass of vegetable juice. V8's low-sodium version cuts the sodium back significantly to 140 mg, but that's still quite a bit for a juice.
4. Pepperidge Farm Goldfish: Many processed foods that kids love are high in sodium, including the toddler-teen favorite Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. The snack has 250 mg per serving. Little children may eat one or fewer servings, but as they get older, many kids devour several servings of these cheese crackers at a time.
5. Canned vegetables: A 1/2-cup serving of Green Giant French Cut Green Beans has 290 mg of sodium. A better option: The same company's frozen green beans have 0 mg of sodium.
6. Annie's Naturals Cowgirl Ranch Dressing: Two tablespoons of this dressing contains 240 mg of sodium.
7. Thomas' Bagels: One plain bagel has a whopping 500 mg of sodium in it, much more than you would expect.
The products I listed here are just examples. You can certainly find the same types of products made by other food manufacturers with similar sodium levels. Trimming 10 percent of the sodium in many of these processed foods should help decrease the average amount people consume daily.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in June 2016.