'Health' Foods Often Higher in Sodium

Read food labels to avoid "cankles," bloating, and high blood pressure.

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Too much salt is known to cause bloating, the swollen ankles known as cankles, and fingers so swollen you can't get your rings off—to say nothing of the increased risk of high blood pressure. But how many of us really check the sodium labels before we buy our favorite brands of cereal, cottage cheese, or maple syrup? A new finding from Consumer Reports reveals that superhigh amounts of sodium are packed into so-called health foods such as "fat free" salad dressings and "heart smart" tomato sauces.

Seems salt is a tasty and cheap substitute for high-fat oils.

But by raising blood pressure, too much salt can make you more susceptible to heart attack, kidney disease, and stroke. It may also boost your chances of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer. While some salt is good for us, we should step up efforts to avoid overdosing, which means looking beyond the health claims on the label and actually reading the sodium content.

Unfortunately, low-sodium versions of pretzels, soups, and tomato sauces often have little taste. But here again, Consumer Reports lends a helping hand by rating favorite versions of such foods as turkey breast slices, salad dressing, and chicken noodle soup. The raters found that most salt substitutes that you shake on at the table aren't palatable. But they did like Diamond Crystal Salt Sense.

If you're still convinced you can guesstimate how much sodium is in your favorite foods, think again. I nearly flunked this quiz on the Consumer Reports website, which shows that instant Jell-O chocolate pudding has nearly four times as much sodium as the cook-and-serve version and that Maple Grove Farms Fat-Free Balsamic Vinaigrette has far more sodium than the full-fat kind.

Also, salt isn't the only player in high blood pressure; try these dietary strategies to help reduce hypertension, and consider a daily square of chocolate.