6 Higher-Sodium Foods That Are Actually Good for You
Pictured recipe: Sicilian-Marinated Olives
Sodium is an essential mineral in our diets, but it's also something most of us eat too much of. Over time, too much sodium can increase your risk for high blood pressure, kidney problems, heart disease and stroke. So, it's often best to keep your sodium intake in a healthy range to protect your body from long-term complications (learn more about starting a low-sodium diet).
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg per day (about the amount found in one teaspoon of salt) and is moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500mg per day. They also estimate that Americans eat more than 3,400mg of sodium each day on average. Yikes!
Still though, you need some salt to keep electrolytes balanced with your water intake, especially if you sweat often or work out regularly and are depleting electrolyte stores, explains Randy Evans, MS, RDN, LD.
"For healthy people who are focused on eating a mostly whole foods-based diet it is important to remember sodium can get too low. Since most of our sodium comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, when we take those away we sometimes see sodium drop below recommended levels in labs," he says. It can be especially important for serious athletes, since we lose sodium in our sweat and balancing hydration needs with electrolyte needs gets a little tricker.
You definitely don't want to ditch all salt for good. It's OK to salt your food when you cook, or eat naturally high-sodium foods in moderation. Here are a few higher-sodium foods to choose from, as they all offer other nutrition benefits (be it protein, healthy fats or other essential vitamins and minerals) to keep you healthy. Talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes, especially if you have been told to cut back on sodium in your diet for medical reasons.
Nuts, Seeds and Nut Butter
You can always enjoy salted nuts and seeds. "I do generally recommend unsalted nuts, but nuts are so good for you in general that they are fine to eat either way," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD.
"For example, new research found that eating walnuts daily can actually increase 'good' HDL cholesterols and positively affect blood sugar levels," she says. If you're concerned about the salt on nuts, look for "lower-sodium" or "50 percent-less-salt" varieties, but the salt will help you get in some electrolytes if you need a bit more. A handful of salted nuts or seeds is great after a tough, sweaty workout—there are around 90mg of sodium in an ounce of mixed nuts.
Or, if you're roasting your own at home, add some salt and seasonings, like spice or garlic and herbs. (Try this sweet and salty roasted nuts recipe.)
Kraut and kimchi are naturally fermented foods that are loaded with gut-healthy probiotics and are salty in nature. "They also tend to be the types of foods that you don't eat a huge portion of in one sitting," says Rizzo. "Because of that, I definitely wouldn't worry about adding some kraut to your sandwich or some kimchi to your stir-fry," she says, for that salty boost and benefit without overdoing it. She adds, "The positive aspects definitely outweigh the salt here." And if you do need that electrolyte hit, it's a great way to do it. For reference, Farmhouse Culture Kraut has 170mg of sodium in 2 tablespoons.
Hello, Mediterranean Diet! Olives are a staple for their good fats to lower inflammation, but they also are naturally salty. "Olives are a superfood, and Kalamata olives are one great option as they are packed with healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients," says Evans. "Adding olives to foods can boost the nutrient status while adding some extra healthy fat and a salty flavor," he adds.
There are 140mg of sodium in four kalamata olives, which is actually a lot. So, be sure to enjoy the olives, but don't nosh on them mindlessly from a container. Add them to fresh salads, sandwiches, dips and more.
It's time to whip out that canned tuna or salmon for lunch on the go! Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, says that seafood naturally contains some sodium, but canned seafood is often packaged with added salt. "A typical can contains 400-600mg of sodium, which may seem high, however most Americans do not consume the recommended 8-12 ounces of seafood per week," she says. She adds that as long as you're not eating tons of processed, salty foods, it won't take you overboard for the day.
What's more, the heart-healthy omega 3 fats found in canned seafood, especially salmon and sardines, are worth the extra accompanying sodium, and you'll get that bit of salt you need for electrolyte balance. There's also some great protein to keep you full and build muscle. Just don't add more salt to that tuna salad, as there's probably enough in the can already.
Cottage cheese is a good source of calcium and an excellent source of protein, and it's high in sodium, packing in over 400mg of sodium per half-cup serving. "That's not a problem, as long as you pair it with fruit like berries, peaches or cantaloupe and nuts for a meal, or add some into a homemade smoothie for a protein boost," says Harris-Pincus.
And that way you're getting a bit of salt that's needed and some power nutrients in the process. "Since adequate protein at breakfast is tough for most people to achieve, cottage cheese is a great option," she says. Or you can enjoy as a salty snack post-workout to get back those electrolytes!
"Personally, I always eat canned beans because they are an affordable and healthy plant-based protein," says Rizzo. If you want that sodium, open the can and enjoy as-is. Yet, "I always recommend rinsing them in cold water to remove some of the salt," Rizzo says, and for those who do need lower-sodium varieties they can easily get them. Rinsing probably removes at least a quarter of the salt they are packed in.
"For those who need to watch their salt intake because of high blood pressure of kidney issues, they can opt for dried beans or low-sodium varieties (135mg or 6% DV)," she says. Yet, if you do need the salt and want something for good protein and fiber, canned beans are the way to go!