Tips & Techniques

10 Places Where Sodium Hides and What To Do About It

May  3, 2016

Health reasons aside, by being aware of the sodium in your ingredients, you will also become a more active participant in building and balancing the tastes in a dish.

By being “sodium mindful,” you’ll start seasoning consciously, sometimes opting for a less salty product and other times, choosing it on purpose for a flavor advantage—like using a bit of Parmesan or chopped anchovies to perk things up instead of plain salt from the shaker. And you’ll create food that tastes bright and nuanced, versus muddled (see: dump salt into this or that). That’s something anyone—with sodium sensitivities or not—can get behind.

Here are 10 places where sodium hides and what to do about it:

1. Asian Condiments

This one’s obvious: Soy sauce, Teriyaki sauce, fish sauce, and miso all contain a lot of sodium—a single tablespoon of soy sauce, for example, equals around 1,000mg of sodium. These products also contain a lot of umami, so if you don’t need to limit your sodium intake, use these ingredients to give simple roasted brussels sprouts or summer corn a savory punch. To cut back, supplement with other natural umami ingredients, like tomatoes, green tea, and mushrooms.

2. The Spice Rack

Certain spices, like garlic powder and mustard powder, may come padded with salt. Many store-bought blends also contain salt as a part of their flavor equation. So whether it is a BBQ rub or a specific curry mix, check labels on packaging to find out if salt has been added. To be in even more in control: It’s really easy to make your own blends at home—including ones you’d never find at your grocery store, like matcha salt and tomato salt.

3. Bread

A single slice of bread lands around 200mg sodium, depending on the brand, which is far from terrible, but a good reminder to choose your loaf (and bread crumbs!) wisely. Make morning toast count by picking one brimming with other flavors from the likes of oats, whole grains, herbs, nuts, and seeds. And if you feel inspired, roll up your sleeves and bake your own.

4. Juicy Poultry

It’s quite typical for a store-bought chicken to come pre-plumped or injected and brined with a salty solution before it hits the store—sometimes increasing sodium by 500%. The same can be true for pork, shrimp, and seafood. To avoid plumping, pass on products that list “added broth,” “enhanced,” or “brined” on the label. And look for birds (and pork and seafood) that say “air-chilled’ and “no water added.” Then add your own brine and seasonings at home.

5. Morning Muffin

Remember the bread we talked about? A lot of that sodium doesn’t come from salt but from the addition of baking powder (around 400mg sodium per teaspoon) and baking soda (over 1,000mg per teaspoon). This is also why baked goods of all shapes and sizes run quite high on the sodium scale. If you wish to avoid the added sodium, stick to yeast-based recipes, like these English muffins.

6. Freezer Foods

Not all frozen vegetables are equal. Some products, like peas, will contain no sodium while others contain upwards of 100mg per cup, depending on the brand. The difference? Pre-seasoning and blanching—a technique used to quickly cook vegetables while maintaining a vibrant color, often using salted water. Whether it is the frozen foods section or a side of spinach at a restaurant, a salt-water blanch (or parboil) will add extra sodium to the dish. Just be aware and avoid salty overload by giving vegetables a taste first before adding your own pinch.

7. Sushi Rice

Rice naturally contains no sodium. Sushi rice, however, is a different story. Traditionally, long grain rice gets mixed together with sugar, salt, and seasoned vinegar to form the sticky padding used for those sushi rolls and onigiri. And seasoned vinegar often means over 200mg sodium per tablespoon. It’s easy to avoid extra sodium by simply using non-seasoned vinegar. And replacing plain salt with more interesting, salty stand-ins, like chopped seaweed or furikake.

8. Milk

This is usually the biggest sodium shock for those reading the carton for the first time. One cup of cow milk equals about 100mg of sodium. A small cup of yogurt means about the same. And buttermilk and condensed milk land at 250mg and 400mg per cup, depending on product. Even nut milks and soy milks contribute around 100mg of sodium per cup—unless you make your own. This doesn’t mean you should avoid milk: Instead, use it to your flavor advantage, like in a yogurt pasta sauce, buttermilk stew, or chicken.

9. Pickled Things

Salt is one of the most important parts of the pickling and preserving process. And while you don’t need salt to get a pickle-ish taste—vinegar plus strong herbs and spices will get the job done, like here. Whether you choose cornichons or capers or good ‘ol dill, a little bit of pickle will add a salty, briny kick for a better egg (or potato) salad and anything from the summer BBQ, like a grilled watermelon salad.

10. Cantaloupe

My favorite sneaky sodium contributor has to be whole foods (the ingredients, not the store). Celery contains 50mg per large stalk; eggs have around 70mg of sodium per egg; cooked Swiss chard equals 300mg sodium per cup; and even unassuming cantaloupe has 25mg per cup. What does this all mean?

Shop the Story

Use whole foods and their naturally “salty” tastes to round out the flavors of a dish, like using roasted carrot or chard stems to flavor hummus or velvet beet juice to make a bloody Mary mix, versus the canned stuff. In general, meat and produce naturally provides the whole spectrum of tastes to play with. So remember, start with the food first before simply reaching for (or dumping that) shaker.

Sodium Girl's new book comes out May 17!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Amy
  • soupcon
  • Bevi
  • Smaug
  • 702551
In January of 2004, I received a diagnosis that changed my life. I was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that in my case attacked my kidneys and brain. Due to the intensity of the initial “flare up” of the disease, I became renal insufficient and eventually faced kidney failure. Amazingly, through great medicine, wonderful family and friends, and an enormous amount of support, I became stronger and healthier and miraculously, my kidneys partially regenerated. I no longer depend on dialysis and by regulating my diet, I depend on fewer medications. Five years later, I work part time and live a full and utterly enjoyable life. My dietary restrictions have transformed into a real passion for food and I hope to be able to pass along my favorite finds to others facing similar dietary challenges. Be creative, be friendly, and be full!


Amy May 3, 2016
Some of my family members are on a low sodium diet so I was already aware of several of the above points, but reading baking soda and baking powder--let's just say it was one of those 'duh' moments for me! Never occurred to me even though I know 'scientifically' what they are made of, it didn't translate to "added sodium" in my head. Thanks for the article!
soupcon May 3, 2016
Interesting that you did not mention restaurant food and fast food which are notoriously high in sodium as well as packaged prepared foods from the supermarket. The more people opt for convenience the more their sodium intake. Cooking at home from scratch means you have absolute control over sodium content. Not that sodium should be eliminated from any diet but for those with medical conditions needing diets with sodium restrictions, home cooking wins hands down.
Smaug May 3, 2016
"Notoriously" is the key word- bought prepared foods don't realy qualify as hidden sodium .
702551 May 3, 2016
Sodium Girl has covered restaurant dining at length in her blog, including food at her catered wedding. She lives in the SF Bay Area and many local restaurant kitchens seem to be able to accommodate her dietary constraints (she certainly isn't the first).

I've been reading her blog occasionally for 5+ years and she is a thoughtful writer, not shrill/annoying about her condition nor dietary restriction.

I have no dietary restrictions myself, but I read Sodium Girl's blog to see how someone who has some restrictions address them in her daily life in the hope of not sacrificing opportunities for social connection, celebrations, good times.

You can lock yourself into a padded room, but how much fun is that beyond a weekend or so?

But don't take my word, go to Sodium Girl's blog and start reading entries.
Bevi May 3, 2016
There can be higher sodium content in some boxed and canned broths. I often reduce or eliminate salt called for in a recipe if I am using store bought broth or stock with a higher sodium content, particularly in soups.