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Tastes salty to me: The hidden truth of sodium in foods

July 14, 2011 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Do you ever read the labels on the boxes of processed foods in your kitchen?  The other day I had two boxes of in front of me, a ready-to eat breakfast cereal and a snack cracker, and I dared to compare. I was surprised to see that the salty tasting snack cracker actually contained less sodium than the breakfast cereal, which didn’t taste salty at all. Since table salt is made of sodium and chloride, shouldn’t a salty tasting food also be high in sodium, and vice versa?

  Sodium per serving listed Sodium per gram of product % Daily value of sodium Salt taste
Snack Cracker 115mg sodium per 18g (4 Crackers) serving 6.38mg 5%DV Salty tasting
Breakfast Cereal 250mg sodium per 27g (1 cup) serving 9.25mg 10%DV Not salty tasting

A big difference between the two products is that the crackers have the salt on the outer surface of the cracker.

When I eat the cracker, the salt hits my tongue directly, so the salt is one of the first things I taste. In contrast, the salt in the breakfast cereal is mixed in, so the salty taste is hidden by the other ingredients.

What I’ve learned is that I can’t rely on my taste buds to tell me which foods are high in salt and sodium, and thankfully I don’t have to.  The % Daily Value (%DV) on the Nutrition Facts table can be used to easily determine if a product has a little or a lot of nutrients like sodium. Below 5% DV is considered to be a little, while more than 15% DV is considered to be a lot.  Since a high sodium intake is strongly linked to higher blood pressure, it pays to check the value listed for sodium in the Nutrition Facts table before choosing packaged foods for family meals.

What foods in your pantry have more than 15% DV for sodium, but don’t taste salty?

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Comments (6)

Stephanie

Posted on Tuesday July 12, 2011 a 4:46pm

Interesting! I’ve always found certain snack crackers to be a bit too salty without a pairing of cheese or nut butter. Can we trust the sodium labelling of certain imported foods like pre-packaged Asian foods? I found some packaged preserved fruits that ranged from 0 mg to 100s of mg sodium on the grocery shelf.

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Tuesday July 12, 2011 a 11:06pm

Thanks for your question Stephanie. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) “All foods packaged for consumer use and imported into Canada must comply with basic food labelling requirements specified by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations.” That said, it is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that their products meet all the Canadian requirements like food labelling. The CFIA has developed a “Nutrition Labelling Compliance Test” system for verifying the accuracy of food labels where problems have been identified. For your own peace of mind, you may want to compare the sodium content and ingredient lists of similar products from different manufacturers. If the sodium content listed on one food product seems to be way out of line with comparable products, and the ingredient list offers no explanation, there may be justification for questioning that information. I hope that this helps to answer your question. Cheers, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC

Clara (not verified)

Posted on Wednesday July 13, 2011 a 7:30pm

Thanks for the article, Dean! A great topic in nutrition that is vastly overlooked in favour of more socially appealing articles, such as "lose weight fast!" I hope you continue to share these great health tips that anyone can easily apply to their everyday lives.

LadyShael

Posted on Thursday July 14, 2011 a 11:07pm

Since becoming a Type 2 diabetic in 2003, I have become very famiuliar with checking every label on every food I buy! I have learned that canned and bottled foods almost always have a high salt content. To my surprise initially, I found that the so called 'Diet Foods' that have a reduced calorie content very often have an increadsed salt and carbohydrate content. Both things Diabetics really have to have to watch! My diabetes Counsellor told me that the higher salt content was because many of us have become addicted to salt, and the ectra has been put in there to 'enhance' the flavour to what we probably want - more salt! And the extra carbs are usually in the form of a thickener like flour (for example) to improve the texture of some diet foods such as salad dressings. So yes, the calorie count is less but sometimes we are further ahead health wise to buy the non diet prepared foods and use less or to make our own. I also learned to check to prepackaged items like spices - such as Lemon Pepper, which many people use to try and use less salt, but the First Ingredient (the ingredient there is the most of) on those items is frequently salt! I also found that the big 'Name Brand' products often have more salt too which is often put in to cater to our salt adiction so we will buy that brand more frequently! Label checking is very important with every packaged item!

rquilter

Posted on Saturday July 16, 2011 a 3:14am

If you are comparing different foods, be sure to check the serving size. I think you'll find that a cup of crackers has more salt than a cup of cereal.

Mum

Posted on Thursday July 21, 2011 a 2:59am

When shopping now I read the labels for the sodium content. I have found two products that have a much less or no sodium - Cloverleaf Tuna (low sodium) and Green Giant canned corn (no salt / no sodium). Frozen vegetables are also much less in sodium. Even better, buy fresh vegetables!

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