When putting together a diet, sodium is something you want to try to steer clear of. And for good reason: on average, adults are eating far more of it than they should.
To put it in perspective, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), you should be eating less than 2,300 mg sodium daily.1
However, most Americans are eating over 3,400 mg every day!
Long-term excess sodium intake can be linked to several health issues like high blood pressure and heart concerns.2
Now, people with certain dietary restrictions may end up avoiding foods with the highest salt content like meats and processed foods.
However, sodium has plenty of other ways to creep into your diet. Even vegans may be getting more sodium than they need, and some of these sneaky high-sodium foods may be the culprits.
Sodium’s Role In The Body
Like any other nutrient, you do need some sodium in your body. Sodium’s role is to regulate the amount of water in your body. Sodium is also important in creating electrical signals the body uses for communication. The brain, nervous system, and muscles all need these signals to function. As a result, getting too little sodium can be as big an issue as getting too much. Generally, though, only those with certain conditions are at risk of too little sodium in the body.
What Happens When You Get Too Much Sodium?
Traditionally, excess sodium is filtered out through the kidneys. But for those with too high of a salt intake, the kidneys can get overwhelmed. The body then takes on extra water to try and dilute it. The result is extra fluid surrounding certain cells and in the blood.
The extra stress this puts on the body can lead to high blood pressure and heart health issues.3
Vegan Foods High In Sodium
By nature, vegans do need to be a little more careful about the foods they eat. This can work to your advantage when it comes to watching your sodium intake. The bad news is that there are a few foods that vegans may love that can still have plenty of sodium. Here are some examples:
Of course, pickled foods are great for many reasons. And they may seem like a real health plus. And they are. For example, certain pickles that are lacto-fermented contain probiotics — the same goes for kimchi and sauerkraut. These foods contain good bacteria, which aid your digestion. And they also help synthesize certain vitamins and bring balance to your gut.4
But unfortunately, there is a slight catch — when it comes to pickles, a high sodium content can help preserve good bacteria, but labels can be deceiving.
Some labels may say that pickles may have relatively low sodium content per serving. But a serving size is often only a portion of one pickle.5
Who eats just a piece of a pickle at a time?
If you munch on pickles a lot, you may be unknowingly ramping up your sodium intake.
2. Imitation Meats
Pickles and imitation meats have something in common. Despite being healthy in some ways, they are still processed foods. Being processed means they need certain additives to stay good longer. Salt is almost always one of them. As a result, they can contribute to a massive salt intake over time. To put things in perspective, a veggie sausage can easily have 600 mg per link. This is a substantial part of your daily sodium intake for one piece of food.
As a result, you may want to lower your substitute meat intake to one meal a week rather than keeping it a staple. The good news is that substitutes for meat can be low in sodium. A great example is tempeh. Not only is tempeh low in sodium, it is also has a similar nutritional profile to meat-based proteins. This means you can treat it like meat with far fewer health worries.
Cardoons are a member of the artichoke family. They’re commonly eaten in Europe and North Africa but are beginning to find popularity in the states as well.
Traditionally, cardoons are baked, boiled, or braised. But cardoons bear mentioning because they’re one of the most sodium-packed vegan foods out there. In fact, just one cup has 303 mg of sodium. Though they do also have plenty of fiber, magnesium, and potassium, be sure to eat cardoons in moderation.6
4. Canned Beans and Veggies
When it comes to vegan proteins, legumes are king. However, what you buy matters. Any canned food will have added salt for preservation. Of course, there are plenty of reasons people turn to canned foods. Perhaps you need an item that’s out of season or maybe it’s a matter of convenience. Well, the good news is you don’t have to ditch beans entirely to be a healthy vegan.
One study showed that draining and rinsing canned beans before you cook them can make a world of difference. Draining beans led to a 36% reduction in sodium. And if you drain and rinse you could reduce sodium up to 41%.7
5. Salad Dressings
Some dressings have as much as 200 mg per serving. And, believe it or not, one serving is just two tablespoons, so your favorite salad may actually be boosting your salt intake. Be sure to read the labels on dressings marked low-fat or light. Some of these use extra salt to compensate. If possible, try to create your own dressings at home using olive oil or citrus as a base.
You may be surprised to see nuts on this list. In and of themselves, most nuts don’t have too high a sodium content at all. In addition, they are good sources of healthy fats and dietary fiber.
But salted nuts are a whole different story. Manufacturers add a heaping dose of sodium to the menu when they salt them. So, while salted nuts are high in sodium, roasted and unsalted nuts are generally okay. Remember this if you like the taste of roasted nuts but are want to mind your sodium intake.
Now, bread is another case in which the food itself may not have a lot of inherent sodium, but it can quickly increase depending on ingredients. A slice of bread can generally run from 50 to 230 milligrams. And as a result, shoppers need to pay close attention to find the brands with the lowest sodium levels. Portion size matters too. So, if you eat a lot of bread you’re likely to boost your sodium intake — no matter what brand you buy.
8. Sea Vegetables
So, sea vegetables have a unique nutritional profile among vegan foods. Coming from the ocean means they have plenty of iodine. This is a rarity in vegan diets and an essential part of good health. The issue can be that sea greens also have a high sodium content.
For instance, one cup of dried seaweed can have around 102 mg of sodium. Sea vegetables are a nutrient packed-food, so don’t feel like you have to skip them entirely. Just be sure to eat them in moderation and try to avoid sodium in other areas to compensate.
Similar to sea vegetables, beets are rich in antioxidants and may actually be able to support better blood pressure rather. Because they have a decent amount of sodium, treat beets as a great salt substitute. Adding it to your dishes means you can skip the pinch of salt in a recipe. You’ll also get a bunch of great nutrients to boot.8
10. Swiss Chard
Finally, a member of the beet family, Swiss chard has over 3 times your recommended amount of vitamin K per day. It also has a large amount of vitamin A. It can be eaten raw or cooked — just make sure you hold the salt. Swiss chard is a healthy vegetable, but one cup has 103 mg of sodium. So, consider using chard as a healthy topping for salads or include it in smoothies.9
How Should You Handle Your Sodium Intake?
Clearly, you don’t need to eliminate sodium entirely, you just need to be thoughtful in how you incorporate it into your meals. There are a lot of things that you can do to reduce your sodium intake while enjoying some of the foods listed above.
Try to seek out low-sodium versions of your favorite foods. And try to read menu information online before going out if you can. By being smart, vegans can take advantage of the full lineup of food options on the table.