Bread and rolls are the No. 1 source of salt in the American diet, accounting for more than twice as much sodium as salty junk food like potato chips.
The top 10 list, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and released earlier this month, actually had salty snacks in last place.
Roseann Doran, an extension educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said it is surprising that bread is the main source of sodium for many people.
Chris Curro, manager at Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, stocks a loaf of Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Low Sodium?Bread in a freezer Wednesday.
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"I you eat a lot of bread, you can consume quite a bit of sodium," she said.
Sodium, Doran said, is an essential nutrient required for proper fluid balance, muscle strength and nerve function.
However, too much sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease and stroke.
Dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, equal to about a teaspoon of salt. Certain people, such as those with high blood pressure, should eat even less. But average sodium consumption in the U.S. is around 3,300 milligrams, the CDC study found. Only 1 in 10 Americans meet the teaspoon guideline.
While bread and rolls grabbed the top spot on the list, it is not because they are saltier than many of the other foods. People just tend to eat a lot of them, said Mary Cogswell, a CDC senior scientist who co-authored the report.
For example, the CDC noted a slice of white bread can have between 80 and 230 milligrams of sodium. A cup of canned chicken noodle soup has between 100 and 940 milligrams and 3 ounces of luncheon meat has between 450 and 1,050 milligrams. A small 1 ounce bag of potato chips ranges from 50 to 200 milligrams.
Cutting the salt
For those looking to cut down on the sodium in their bread, there are options.
Doran said if people want to make their own bread and leave the salt out, or reduce the amount used, they can.
However, salt in yeast breads improves texture by promoting gluten structure. Not to mention that the average person will notice a difference in taste, she said.
As an example, she said, chocolate chip cookies made with unsalted butter taste different than those made with butter that has salt.
"If you put [the cookies] side by side and try them, you will notice a difference," she said.
Chris Curro, the manager of Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, said the market has low-sodium bread, in addition to its many low- or no-sodium products.
"There are people who ask for low-sodium everything," he said.
Two low-sodium breads at the store are Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Low Sodium Bread and Manna Bread. The Food for Life Bread actually claims to have 0 milligrams of sodium per serving, while the Manna Bread has 10 milligrams per serving.
Curro noted the Food for Life bread arrived at the store about two weeks ago, and was ordered in response to customer demands.
Doran said a key to cutting the sodium in their bread, or anything else, is to check the nutrition label on the product and compare it to others.
Being willing to commit to spending more time to think about the sodium they are consuming and planning out what they will eat in a day will help many people, she said.
CDC officials - who have long encouraged people to eat more fruits and vegetables - stopped short of advising people to lay off bread. But they also encourage consumers to read labels and, for example, buy brands of bread that have lower sodium.
"People can choose how much salt to add to their food at the table. They can't take it out once it's there," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.
According to the CDC, just 10 foods are responsible for 44 percent of the sodium consumed in the average American's diet. Breads and rolls account for about 7 percent of the salt that the average American eats in a day. Next on the list: cold cuts and cured meats; pizza; fresh and processed poultry; soups; fast-food hamburgers and sandwiches and cheese.
Rounding out the list - and accounting for about 3 percent each - are spaghetti and other pasta dishes; meatloaf and other meat dishes and snacks like potato chips and pretzels.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/Sodium/index.html
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story