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On a cellular level, consuming too much of either salt or sugar has a similar effect, since cells receive sugar with the help of salt . If you consume too much salt or sugar, cells can literally become water-logged.

Sodium is essential to human health. Every cell in your body has to use three ions of sodium every time it receives a single molecule of glucose sugar. The movement of sodium in and out of nerve cells enables them to send signals, and the exchange of ions of this vital mineral across the membrane of muscle cells powers them to contract and relax.

Life is not possible without sodium, but it's also possible to get too much. On the whole-body level, the kidneys do a great job of keeping sodium levels tightly controlled, but if you eat a lot of salt, you also need to drink a lot of water, sending your weight up and down as the kidneys do their work.The short-term effects on your health are subtle, but they increase your long-term risk of chronic disease.

That's why experts typically advise, in addition to limiting consumption of refined sugars, consuming no more than 2,500 mg of sodium every day. Many Americans consume twice that much, and many people in northern Europe, Portugal, Japan, and Korea consume three or four times the recommended limit, due to their consumption of salted fish and pickled vegetables.

In the Mediterranean countries, in Latin America, and Asia, you know when you are getting too much sodium, because the food you are eating is salty.

In the USA, however, sodium is used to cover up the unpleasant tastes that develop when food is heat-processed so it will not spoil when it is put into boxes and cans.

In the US, sodium lurks in almost all processed foods. Three-fourths of all the sodium Americans consume comes from the food itself in the package or the can, not from salt added during cooking or at the dinner table.

List of foods too high in salt content: absolutely the worst offenders

Some processed foods can be as hard on your kidneys--and pack on as much water weight--as eating a small jar full of pickles. The problem is that consumers don't realize how many products have to be doused with salt to hide flavors that creep in during manufacturing or storage. Here are the worst offenders.

  • Bacon provides 185 mg of sodium per 1/3 oz (8 g) slice.
  • Capers get their flavor by fermenting the flower bud and then pickling in salt. A tablespoon (8 g) of capers provides just 2 calories but 252 mg of sodium.
  • Classico Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce contains about 1,110 mg of sodium per one-cup serving. Try Tomato-and-Basil, or better yet, make your own.
  • Country-style ham, center slice, provides about 2,800 mg of sodium per 3-1/2 ounce (100 g) serving, and many people do not stop with just one, or even with just two servings.
  • Green Giant Canned Mushrooms are another food that has to have salt added to cover the "tinny" tastes of canning. Just 25 calories (1/2 cup) of mushrooms provides 440 mg of sodium.
  • Heinz Ketchup has about 190 mg of sodium in each tablespoon. That's the same as the smallest bag of chips or an ounce of salted peanuts. Putting Heinz "on everything" can put you over your daily limits in a hurry.
  • Kellogg's Eggo Buttermilk Pancakes, a serving of three, give you about 1/4 of the sodium you need for the entire day. Add a side of bacon or sausage, however, and you nearly have all the sodium you should consume in a twenty-four hour period.
  • Kellogg's Raisin bran contains about twice the sodium of competing brands.
  • Kraft's Singles cheese slices cover up the bitter tastes of processed cheese with salt, about 190 mg per slice. A grilled cheese sandwich with two slices of white bread and two slices of cheese puts you at about 1,000 mg of sodium, or approximately half your daily limit.
  • Lender's Whole Grain Plain Bagel has about the same sodium content as a one-ounce serving of beef jerky (see Slim Jim, below). Smear it with cream cheese and add a slice of lox and you have half your day's needs of sodium.
  • Long John Silver's Lite Italian Dressing, Blimpie Sauce for Blimpie Sandwiches, Chick-fil-A Buffalo Sauce, and McDonald's Spicy Buffalo Sauce all provide an entire day's worth of sodium in a single packet.
  • Lox and smoked salmon provide 2,000 mg of sodium--your entire day's needs--in a single 3-1/2 ounce of 100-gram serving.
  • Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean Burgers each give you just 10 per cent of a day's calories (about 210 calories each), but about one-third of a day's sodium (about 700 mg). Try Amy's Organics instead.
  • Pepperidge Farms "Dark Pump" Pumpernickel Bread, the purple treat, offers lots of fiber with lots of salt, about 190 mg per slice. Two slices of pumpernickel, two slices of cheese, 2 ounces (56 g) any kind of cured meat, mustard, and a pickle quickly adds up to 2,500 mg of sodium.
  • Perdue Short Cuts Carved Chicken Breast, Southwestern Style Cooked Chicken Strips--and let's be honest, nobody eats the recommended 1/3 of the box--is packed with nearly 1,400 mg of sodium, but just 200 calories. If you fill up on these chicken strips, you'll be well on the way to being preserved, yourself.
  • Quaker Instant Grits provide 520 mg of sodium per 1-ounce (28 g) packet. Many people, course, eat two or three packets, which with a sprinkle of cheese or bacon bits quickly adds up to an entire day's sodium.
  • Salted cod, a favorite ingredient in Portuguese stews, as well as lutefisk, a favorite fall food in the American Midwest, provide 7,000 calories per 100-gram (3-1/2 ounce) serving. Many people, however, eat more than one serving! Salted mackerel, a favorite food for certain Asian and Latin American dishes, contains 4,000 mg per 100-gram serving.
  • Salami, just three slices, contains a full day's worth of sodium.
  • Salted jellyfish may not rank very high on most menus, but it is the highest-sodium of any tested food, 9610 mg of sodium (although just 21 calories) per 100-gram (3-1/2 ounce) serving.
  • Slim Jim Original Beef Jerky contains just 80 calories per 1-ounce (28 g) serving, but each ounce offers 800 mg of sodium. Two sticks of Slim Jim, and you have consumed nearly your entire allowance of sodium for the day.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes contain approximately 750 mg of sodium per ounce (28 g).
  • Tofu contains nearly 3,000 mg of sodium per 3-1/2 oz (100 gram) serving.
  • V8 Spicy Hot Vegetable Juice covers up the "canned flavor" of the drink with 480 mg of sodium per cup. You will get 100 per cent of your vitamin C along with 20 per cent of you daily sodium with each cup (240 ml) of V8.

These are just a few of the salty foods we don't usually think of as salty. In general, if it's a sauce that comes in bottle or a packet, if it's cured or smoked or salted, or if it's pickled in any way, it's very high in salt. Eat these foods in moderation, saving them for special treats.

  • Jacqueline L Webster, Elizabeth K Dunford, and Bruce C Neal, A systematic survey of the sodium contents of processed foods., Am J Clin Nutr, Feb 2010, 91: 413 - 420.Photo courtesy of cookbookman17 by Flickr : http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookbookman/6176283780/