Packaged Grocery Foods Often High in Salt, Study Finds

Many cold cuts, pizza, and packaged meals contain too much sodium to be labeled healthy

When you’re roaming up and down the grocery isles looking for healthy foods, keep in mind a new study showing that more than half of packaged grocery store foods contain too much added salt. The report, conducted by U.S. health officials, looked at packaged food sales in grocery stores and over half of those products exceeded the FDA healthy food label guidelines for sodium.

Too much salt (sodium) intake is a risk factor for developing high blood pressure, which in turn, can contribute to heart disease and strokes.

According the U.S. Food and Drug Administration healthy food label guideline, the daily allowable intake of sodium for individual foods is only 480 milligrams (mg) per serving. So foods such as cheese, cold cuts and bread must fall into those limits to claim that they are “healthy.” A total of 600 mg is allowed for meals, such as pasta dishes, pizza and sandwiches. The total daily salt intake is under 2,300 mg per day, which is about a teaspoon. If you are over 51, African-American and or have health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the recommended daily sodium intake is 1,500 mg or less.

Linda Schieb, an epidemiologist in the division of heart disease and stroke prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and her team visited 52 markets from across the country and analyzed sales. They found that over 70 percent of pizza, pasta mixed dishes or meat mixed dishes (such as meat loaf or pork with BBQ sauce), as well as 50 to 70 percent of cold cuts, soups and sandwiches surpassed the FDA “healthy” labeling for sodium. But only 10 percent of breads, savory snacks and cheese went over the healthy label guidelines.

Food manufacturers add more salt both for taste and for salt’s role as a preservative. So if you eat a cup of soup and a turkey sandwich that contain about 2,200 mg of sodium, you’re daily intake is going to go way over the recommended amount.

So read and compare the labels, include fresh meats and vegetables, and limit processed foods. And when you cook, use herbs, lemon and other seasonings and limit salt. It’s one easy way to potentially lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease and limit the risks of other diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease.

The study is published in the April issue of the journal Preventing Chronic Disease and in MedlinePlus April 2, 2015.

10