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Identify Your High-Sodium, High-Frequency Items

By doing the legwork (even if it seems tedious, it will be worth it!) to identify the highest-sodium foods in your kitchen, you are educating yourself so you can decide the best course of action to reduce sodium. Go over the results of your sodium sweep, highlighting the often or occasionally used items that contain more than about 300 mg of sodium per serving. In fact, because frequency of use has such an impact on the total amount of sodium consumed, the best way to show the true impact of each item on your overall sodium intake is to calculate a monthly average for the items you use often (once a week or more).

Using the results from the sample inventory, this chart shows the top offenders in Christy's kitchen, with a monthly average of total sodium. To create a similar chart of your own, pull out each high-sodium item you've highlighted and estimate how many servings you use each week. Multiply the weekly sodium in each item by 4 to see about how much sodium that food or beverage contributes to your diet over a month's time.

TOP HIGH-SODIUM ITEMS IN CHRISTY'S KITCHEN

 SODIUM PER SERVING (MG)*

 HOW OFTEN USED (ESTIMATE)

 MONTHLY AVERAGE SODIUM (MG)*

soy sauce

 1,000 per 1 tbsp

 2 × per week

 8,000

chicken noodle soup, condensed

 890 per 1 cup prepared

 2 × per week

 7,120

chicken broth, low-fat

 860 per 1 cup

 2 × per week

 6,880

deli ham, honey-baked, 97% fat-free

 690 per 2 oz

 2 × per week

 5,520

frozen Chinese entrée (shrimp in garlic sauce; 2 servings per container)

 1,350 per serving

 1 × per week

 5,400

brown rice pilaf mix, organic

 530 per ½ cup cooked

 2 × per week

 4,240

salsa

 500 per ¼ cup

 2 × per week

 4,000

pretzels, fat-free, salted

 485 per 2 large

 2 × per week

 3,880

garlic salt

 240 per ¼ tsp

 4 × per week

 3,840

spaghetti sauces, various flavors

 average 450 per ½ cup

 2 × per week

 3,600

beef broth, fat-free

 890 per 1 cup

 1 × per week

 3,560

whole-grain cluster cereal

 290 per 1 cup

 3 × per week

 3,480

tomato sauce

 410 per ¼ cup

 2 × per week

 3,280

mustard, Dijon

 360 per 1 tbsp

 2 × per week

 2,880

whole-wheat crackers, organic

 225 per 6 crackers

 3 × per week

 2,700

diced tomatoes

 310 per ½ cup

 2 × per week

 2,480

frozen Indian entrée (chicken biryani)

 1,080 per serving

 2 × per month

 2,160

ketchup

 170 per 1 tbsp

 3 × per week

 2,040

black beans, canned

 460 per ½ cup

 1 × per week

 1,840

Italian meatballs

 460 per 6 meatballs

 1 × per week

 1,840

macaroni and cheese mix, organic

 900 per 1 cup cooked

 2 × per month

 1,800

popcorn, light microwave

 220 per 1 oz popped

 2 × per week

 1,760

instant sugar-free pudding mix

 415 per ½-cup serving

 1 × per week

 1,660

cream of mushroom soup, condensed

 830 per ½ cup condensed

 2 × per month

 1,660

frozen shrimp, large (31–40 count)

 805 per 3 oz

 2 × per month

 1,610

rye bread

 200 per 1 slice

 2 × per week

 1,600

green beans, canned, organic

 380 per ½ cup

 1 × per week

 1,520

cocktail sauce

 760 per ¼ cup

 2 × per month

 1,520

skillet Stroganoff mix

 750 per 1 cup cooked

 2 × per month

 1,500

kidney beans, canned

 335 per ½ cup

 1 × per week

 1,340

tuna, canned, albacore

 315 per 3 oz

 1 × per week

 1,260

tortilla chips

 150 per 1 oz

 2 × per week

 1,200

chickpeas, canned

 440 per ½ cup

 2 × per month

 880

*Sodium values have been rounded to the nearest 5 mg.

Of course, your own food culture and preferences will dictate the entries in your chart, and many of the examples given will differ from what sits on your pantry shelves and in your refrigerator and freezer. However, the process of analyzing each item to understand its part in your overall sodium intake doesn't change from home to home. For every high-sodium item that you bring into your kitchen, especially those you use most often, it's time to decide on a specific action that will result in your making a lower-sodium choice in the grocery store.

SHOPPING FOR OPTIONS

Look for comparable products for each of your high-sodium items, checking the nutrition facts panels for the serving size as well as the sodium content. If you find several viable options for a certain item, such as the various flavors of spaghetti sauce, write down the specifics of each. First buy the one that most appeals to you. If you try it and find that the brand or flavor doesn't suit your needs after all, try another. Just don't keep buying the same high-sodium product out of habit. For example, when shopping for pasta sauces, you might compare the sodium values for the four varieties below.

Identify Your High-Sodium, High-Frequency Items

Humans are creatures of habit, and food shopping is a good example of that truism. Without even thinking about it, most of us tend to buy the same types of food, the same brands, year after year. Perhaps your mother used a certain kind of bread, so you do, too, or you always keep a special brand of cereal in the pantry because your husband likes it. Whatever your routine, you may be bringing home more sodium than you need, just out of habit. Compare the sodium values for the four varieties of canned tomatoes below. Notice the difference in sodium between the no-salt-added variety and the three other types.

Identify Your High-Sodium, High-Frequency Items

Follow the same procedure with all products that are available in a range of sodium levels. Pay special attention to those you use often, such as canned tomatoes and chicken broth, because the differences can really add up.

Familiarizing yourself with the levels of sodium in different brands will also pay off when you're ready to take another step to further reduce your sodium intake. If you know there are even lower sodium options available, you can transition down gradually to the next-lowest amount when you are ready.

Identify Your High-Sodium, High-Frequency Items

Also, remember to compare commercial brands with homemade options, such as Mamma Mia Marinara, at 16 mg per ½ cup, or Chicken Broth at 37 mg per 1 cup. If you find that you absolutely cannot live without an old standby, try using less than your usual amount when you can; you'll automatically be cutting back on your sodium intake.

To change your routine and cut back on sodium at home, record the items that top your personal list of high-sodium offenders. Use the Product Comparison Tracker template in the Toolkit (Part IV) or create a chart of your own, leaving space to jot down notes as you shop. With this information in hand, you're ready to compare options and look for better choices. The idea is to gain perspective on the choices available at local stores so you can decide which will be the best for you at this stage of your sodium transition. As you get accustomed to using lower-sodium options, you can continue to stair-step down.

When you go shopping, plan to allow enough time to do some in-depth research. As you progress through the grocery store, decide how you want to deal with each item on your chart:

Rethink and do without.

Replace with a lower-sodium choice.

Reduce the amount you use or use it less often.

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