A Salty Surprise: Bread May Be Causing Your Sodium Intake to Skyrocket

For heart-healthy consumers seeking low-sodium diets, bread and rolls are public enemy number one.
Feb 8, 2012
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Thinking of cutting back on your salt intake? Put down that dinner roll.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control says breads, not salty snacks, are where most Americans get their sodium. In fact, on the CDC's list of the top 10 sources of salt, foods like chips and popcorn came in number 10, reports Reuters.

But bread doesn't even taste salty. What gives?

As with many dietary questions, the answer is in how much people consume. Americans love their bread. So while bread isn't necessarily much saltier than other foods, the quantities of rolls, breads, and bagels people eat make up the difference. 

High sodium diets are a health risk, increasing a person's chances of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. A harmless staple in small doses, bread can add up to big trouble for people who eat too much of it.

The trouble is, navigating the grocery store with heart health in mind is no easy task. Most of the salt in people's diets comes from processed and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker. The average frozen meal has between 500 and 1,500 miligrams per serving. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration speculated that a reduction in salt intake would save thousands of lives. A report from the Institute of Medicine backed that statement, estimating approximately 100,000 lives would be saved annually.

According to the CDC report, only 10 foods are responsible for 44 percent of salt consumers are eating. Breads account for about 7 percent. Cold cuts and cured meats follow, and pizza, poultry, and soups take third place. Fast food burgers, sandwiches, and cheese tie for fourth. Bringing up the rear are spaghetti, meatloaf and other meat dishes, and snacks like pretzels and potato chips, each accounting for about 3 percent.

It's no wonder only 1 in 10 Americans consume the recommended intake of a teaspon of salt a day (about 2,200 miligrams). Most are downing an extra 1,000 miligrams each day. 

So what's a health-conscious consumer to do? The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has a good list of suggestions, which include eating fewer processed foods, using salt-free seasoning blends, and rinsing canned foods to reduce sodium.

• What are the top 5 salty foods? Read our list.

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