Effects of Salt and Fat on Your Heart

Overview

Many common foods contain too much sodium and unhealthy fats. It is important to pay attention to how much sodium and fat are in the foods you eat. Knowing sodium and fat content of everyday foods can help you get the right amount of fat and sodium in your diet without going over the recommended amounts.

Sodium

Most sodium is consumed in the form of salt, also called sodium chloride. The body needs some sodium to help the nerves and muscles function properly and to control blood pressure and blood volume by maintaining the correct balance of fluids in the body.

Too much sodium. In general, the more sodium a person consumes, the higher the person’s blood pressure. Too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk for heart disease, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and other serious health problems.

Many foods naturally contain some sodium. These include milk, carrots, beets, meat, and shellfish. Salt may be added at the table or during cooking as a seasoning.

Salt in processed foods. Most of the sodium we consume comes from salt added to various food products during processing. These include:

  • Processed meats, such as cold cuts and sausage
  • Canned soups and vegetables
  • Condiments and seasonings, such as soy sauce and garlic salt
  • Breads and rolls
  • Fast foods

Dietary guidelines. Most U.S. residents consume an average of about 3,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Dietary guidelines, however, recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt.

You should also eat plenty of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, oranges, potatoes, and spinach. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium and helps control blood pressure. An average adult should consume about 4,700 mg of potassium each day.

Fats

Dietary fats provide an important source of energy for the body. Fats also help the body make hormones and absorb certain vitamins.

It is important to understand the different types of fat and how much fat is in common foods. This allows you to eat a healthy amount of fat based on your daily calorie needs. Otherwise, a diet high in certain types of fat can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and other health problems.

The harmful, or "bad," fats are:

  • Saturated fats. Saturated fats, which are usually solid at room temperature, raise the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. High LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats are found mainly in meat and dairy products, but high amounts of saturated fats are also found in many fried foods and baked goods.
  • Trans fats. Trans fats are created during a process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid. Trans fats are easy to cook with, increase a food’s shelf life, and give food a pleasing texture and taste. Partially hydrogenated oil is another term for trans fat. Trans fats increase bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and also decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. This increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Although some of the trans fat we consume comes from animal fat, the majority comes from baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, muffins, and biscuits; fried foods, such as French fries, breaded chicken nuggets, and fried chicken; and snack foods, such as popcorn.

The beneficial, or “better,” fats are:

  • Monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature but become solid when cold. Eating foods with monounsaturated fats both in moderation and in place of saturated fats or trans fats can reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, thus lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. Monounsaturated fats are also a source of vitamin E and can be found in nuts, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and when cold. They include omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which are essential fats the body needs for brain function and normal growth and development. Eating foods with polyunsaturated fats both in moderation and in place of saturated fats or trans fats can reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and lower the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids may be especially good for the heart. Polyunsaturated fats are found in walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, trout, soybean oil, and canola oil.

To eat the right amount of “better” fats while also eating less “bad” fats, dietary guidelines for adults are:

  • Total fat intake. Limit total intake of all dietary fats to 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. Most fats should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat sources.
  • Saturated fat. Limit saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your total calories each day. Limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of daily calories can further reduce heart disease risk.
  • Trans fat. Limit foods that contain trans fat to keep intake as low as possible. The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories.
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These healthy fats should make up the remainder of your daily total fat intake.

For example, a person who needs 2,000 calories a day should consume 44 to 78 grams of total fat each day. Of that, saturated fat should make up 15 to 22 grams and trans fat should make up less than 2 grams. The remaining fat intake should come from fish, nuts, vegetable oils, and other sources

Sodium Content in Common Foods

The amount of sodium consumed in a day should stay at 2,300 mg or less. In reality, however, we consume an average of about 3,300 mg each day. According to research, the following food categories top the list of sodium sources in our diets:

  • Breads and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Poultry (fresh and processed)
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches, such as cheeseburgers
  • Cheese
  • Pasta dishes
  • Meat dishes, such as meatloaf with tomato sauce
  • Snacks, such as popcorn and chips

Different sodium levels are found in different brands of the same food. For example, 1 cup of canned chicken noodle soup can range from 100 to 940 mg of sodium.

All foods contain some sodium, but processed foods and restaurant foods are the main source of sodium in the diet. Below is a list of common foods and the amount of sodium they contain. Values greater than 10 mg of sodium were rounded to the nearest 10 mg.

  • White bread (1 slice): 80 to 230 mg
  • Dinner roll: 150 mg
  • Plain bagel (4 inches): 460 mg
  • Blueberry muffin: 200 to 250 mg
  • Pancake: 180 to 240 mg
  • Raisin bran cereal (1 cup): 240 to 260 mg
  • Whole egg (fresh): 60 mg
  • 2 percent milk (1 cup): 120 mg
  • Apple (raw, with skin): 1 mg
  • Banana: 1 mg
  • Carrot (raw): 50 mg
  • Canned carrots (1 cup): 350 mg
  • Tomato (raw): 10 mg
  • Canned tomatoes (1 cup): 340 to 560 mg
  • Bacon (3 medium slices): 439 mg
  • Turkey breast (3 oz., deli or prepackaged luncheon meat): 450 to 1,050 mg
  • Fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast (4 oz.): 40 to 330 mg
  • Restaurant chicken strips (3 oz., breaded): 430 to 900 mg
  • Frozen chicken strips (3 oz., breaded): 200 to 570 mg
  • Slice of frozen plain cheese pizza (4 oz., regular crust): 370 to 730 mg
  • Slice of restaurant plain cheese pizza (4 oz., regular crust): 510 to 760 mg
  • Regular corn dog: 350 to 620 mg
  • Cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant: 710 to 1,690 mg
  • Slice processed American cheese (1 oz., packaged or deli): 330 to 460 mg
  • Canned pasta with meat sauce (1 cup): 530 to 980 mg
  • Canned beef stew (1 cup): 900 mg
  • Packaged pork with barbecue sauce (5 oz.): 600 to 1,120 mg
  • Plain potato chips (1 oz.): 50 to 200 mg
  • 10 pretzels (plain, salted): 810 mg
  • Ketchup (1 tablespoon): 170 mg
  • Soy sauce (1 tablespoon): 900 mg

Fat Content in Common Foods

The total amount of dietary fats consumed in 1 day should stay between 20 and 35 percent of your total daily calories, with most fats coming from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat sources.

Saturated fats and trans fats are harmful fats that can cause heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems. Below is a list of common foods and the amount of saturated fats they contain.

  • Chocolate cake (1 piece, no frosting): 5 g
  • Candy bar (milk chocolate): 8 g
  • Chocolate chip cookie: 1 to 2 g
  • Glazed doughnut (1.8 oz.): 3 g
  • Potato chips (1 oz., plain): 3 g
  • Fried chicken strips (7 oz.): 6 g
  • French fries (6.9 oz.): 6 g
  • T-bone steak: 20 g
  • Pork spareribs (3 oz.): 9 g
  • Cheeseburger: 10 g
  • Hot dog: 5 g
  • Salami (2 slices): 2 to 5 g
  • Bacon (3 medium slices): 3 g
  • Cheddar cheese (1 oz.): 6 g
  • American cheese (1 oz.): 5 g
  • Mozzarella cheese (1 oz., part skim milk): 3 g
  • Ice cream (1/2 cup): 2 to 8 g 
  • Vanilla shake (12 oz.): 8 g
  • 2 percent milk (1 cup): 3 g
  • Biscuit (2 oz.): 2.5 g
  • Croissant (plain): 4.5 g
  • Butter (1 tablespoon): 7 g
  • Stick margarine (1 tablespoon): 2 g

The amount of trans fats in food products and fast foods has greatly decreased because of greater awareness of the health dangers of trans fats. In some cases, food manufacturers and fast food chains have eliminated trans fats in their products. Even so, some foods still contain trans fats, such as:

  • French fries (6.9 oz.): 7 g
  • Glazed doughnut (1.8 oz.): 4 g
  • Biscuit (2 oz.): 3.5 g
  • Croissant (plain): 7 g
  • Fried chicken strips (7 oz.): 6 g
  • Stick margarine (1 tablespoon): 1.5 g

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. They are typically found together in foods, including:

  • Salmon (6 oz.): 13 g
  • Trout (1 pound): 18 g
  • Guacamole (4 oz.): 8 g
  • Peanuts (1 oz.): 11 g
  • Sunflower seeds (1 oz.): 12 g
  • Walnuts (1 oz.): 16 g
  • Almonds (1 oz.): 12 g
  • Macadamia nuts (1 oz.): 17 g
  • Olive oil (1 tablespoon): 11 g
  • Canola oil (1 tablespoon): 13 g
  • Peanut oil (1 tablespoon): 11 g

Reading the Food Label

When buying packaged and prepared foods, it is important to first read the Nutrition Facts label.

The listed amount of sodium and fats are for each serving, not for the entire package. Therefore, if a portion size equals 3 servings of a product, you are eating triple the sodium or fats listed on the label.

Sodium

A food does not have to taste salty to include a high amount of sodium. Sodium has many different names, which you can find in the ingredients list. They include:

  • Sodium chloride (salt)
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Monosodium glutamate, or MSG (flavor enhancer)
  • Sodium saccharin (sweetener)
  • Sodium benzoate (preservative)
  • Sodium nitrite (preservative)
  • Sodium citrate (buffer)
  • Sodium phosphates (emulsifiers, stabilizers, buffers)
  • Sodium caseinate (thickener and binder)

On some food packaging, you may see claims regarding the sodium content. Here is a list of common sodium-related terms and what they mean:

  • Sodium-free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium or less sodium: Typical sodium level reduced by 25 percent per serving
  • Light in sodium: Sodium reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Some medications also contain sodium, so it is important to read the ingredient list of any over-the-counter or prescription medicines you take. Talk to us or your pharmacist if you are not sure whether your medications contain sodium. There may be a low-sodium alternative.

Fats

Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat content must be listed on a food label. However, the listing of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content is currently not required, so a food manufacturer may not include it on the label.

To calculate the per-serving amount of these healthy fats, add the saturated fat and trans fat amounts. Then subtract that number from the total fat amount to get the combined amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

Although trans fats are being used less often, beware foods labeled “trans fat-free.” These foods contain the same number of calories and often lack essential nutrients and vitamins. Also, these foods still contain a high amount of unhealthy saturated fat.

How to Cut Back

There are simple steps you can take to reduce the amount of sodium and unhealthy fats in your diet.

Here are sodium-reducing tips:

  • Compare the Nutrition Facts label among different foods to find a product with less sodium.
  • Do not add salt at the table or when cooking. Instead, use natural herbs, spices, and fresh lemon juice to flavor foods.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat less processed and prepackaged foods.
  • Eat unsalted nuts instead of chips and pretzels.
  • If you need ideas for low-salt meals, search for low-salt recipes online or buy a low-salt cookbook.
  • When eating out, request that your meal be prepared without salt.
  • Eat plenty of foods with potassium, which helps counter the effects of sodium.

Here are tips for reducing the amount of bad fats in your diet:

  • Compare the Nutrition Facts label among different foods to find a product with less saturated fat.
  • Choose foods with 0 grams of trans fat. It is also important to check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oil because products with less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving can be labeled as containing 0 g trans fat.
  • Replace foods with a lot of saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. For example, eat salmon instead of steak, and snack on nuts instead of a candy bar.
  • Trim fat off meat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and other dairy products.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are naturally low in fat.
  • Eat grilled, steamed, or baked foods instead of fried foods.
  • Instead of butter or shortenings, cook with liquid vegetable oils or soft margarine.
  • Eat at restaurants that do not use trans fats in food preparation.

If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following:
(1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.