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Allison's Sodium Shakedown

Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Habits Coach Allison Fishman Task clears the confusion and explains what to look for (and avoid) on labels.

What's the difference between salt and sodium? Salt contains sodium—40% of salt is sodium (the rest is chloride). Sodium is the real culprit in hypertension issues, but the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Are reduced-sodium items the best choice? "Reduced sodium" or "less sodium" doesn't mean the food is actually all that low in sodium. For that label, a food company only has to make their food contain 25% less sodium than the original food. Take soy sauce, for example. Reduced-sodium soy sauce has 575mg sodium in 1 tablespoon, compared to 920mg in regular soy sauce. That's a savings of 345mg per tablespoon, but if you eat a tablespoon with your sushi (which isn't unthinkable), you've consumed a quarter of your day's sodium. "No salt added" or "unsalted" means the food manufacturer didn't add any salt during processing, though the food may contain some sodium naturally. "Light in sodium" or "lightly salted" is also tricky—this label just means the food contains 50% less sodium than the original food. The smartest label to look for is "low sodium." A food must have 140mg sodium or less per serving to earn that label.

Why do low-fat foods have so much salt? In many cases, "low fat" can mean more salt. When food manufacturers take fat out of a food, they often add salt and sugar to compensate. Here are two examples: Fat-free sour cream has twice the sodium of regular sour cream. And fat-free cream cheese has double the sodium of regular cream cheese.