What About Unprocessed Foods?

Comparing labels on processed foods takes a lot of the guesswork out of sodium-smart shopping, but what about the foods that are sold in their natural state, without nutrition information? Although you may assume that these foods contain only naturally occurring sodium, some of these common products are actually processed in some way.

Ask your store manager if nutrition information for unlabeled and locally produced foods is available. If not, following a few general guidelines can make shopping for unlabeled foods a little easier:

PRODUCE If a food is still in its natural “packaging” (for example, whole melons or fresh vegetables), there is less chance that it has been enhanced or changed in the move from farm to market. If a vegetable has been cut, prepared, and commercially packaged, even if it's called “organic” or “natural,” there's a possibility that sodium has been added in some form.

POULTRY, MEAT, AND SEAFOOD When choosing among commercial brands, look for unenhanced products, especially uninjected poultry. Although you expect saltwater seafood to contain some naturally occurring sodium, you may be getting more than you bargained for because salt is added to many brands of commercially distributed shrimp, clams, scallops, and mussels. If you're buying local, talk to farmers and distributors to find out how meat has been processed before being brought to market. Keep in mind, too, that locally made sausage, ham, and bacon are just as high in sodium as the commercial brands because salt is needed for the curing process.

BAKED GOODS AND BREADS Bakeries and pastry shops are tempting for a good reason: their products are freshly made and beautifully presented. Just because these treats are not made by a national manufacturer, however, doesn't mean that they are lighter in salt than their commercially distributed counterparts. In fact, most baked goods require a certain amount of salt to rise properly and have a good consistency. You can ask at individual establishments whether nutrition information is available, but these foods are good candidates for the rethink or reduce categories. Save them for occasional treats to save on both sodium and calories.

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