Added Salt in Processed Foods

High intakes of single macrominerals can have detrimental effects on health. The reason for this is that macromineral intakes must be balanced to maintain health. This relates to the way the macrominerals, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium, maintain the intracellular and extracellular osmotic and electrical activity. High intakes of a single macromineral can therefore shift the delicate balance that is required by cells for proper homeostatic function. One of the most common macromineral imbalances is the potassium to sodium ratio, a ratio that is required for correct electrical and neuronal activity in cells. The ideal ratio is not known and likely varies from person to person, but is believed to be in the region of 20 grams of potassium to every 1 gram of sodium. Most plant foods maintain this sort of ratio, and a plant rich diet can supply potassium to sodium ratios of about 20 to 1. However, processed foods contain little potassium but have added sodium and this reverses the dietary ratio.

Those who eat typical Western diets will have sodium to potassium imbalances in their diet and this likely affects their health. Studies have investigated the sodium content of typical Western processed foods and found very high concentrations in particular categories of foods. For example, in one study1, researchers analysed a number of types of processed foods for their sodium chloride content based on items purchase in a typical supermarket in the United States in 2009. Processed meats had the highest mean sodium content of any category of food, with 966 mg total sodium per serving. Products in the vegetable oil and dressing category had the highest mean sodium content per 100 grams at 1071 mg per 100 g. The soup category contained the foods with the highest density of sodium at 18.4 mg per kcal. More than half of the processed foods (11 out of 20) exceeded the FDA limits on sodium content for healthy sodium content labelling and 4 of the 20 categories exceeded 1150 mg per serving.

Dr Robert Barrington’s Nutritional Comments: Salt (sodium chloride) is used in processed foods because it is one of the most desired tastes by humans. Bland and uninteresting foods, which use poor quality ingredients, and which are devoid of any meaningful levels of nutrients can be made to appear appealing through addition of salt. Sugar and fat are often also added to such foods for the same reason. This combination of high salt, sugar and fat content, creates a final product that if eaten regularly can significantly contribute to Western lifestyle diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Those who consume typical Western foods regularly, are therefore consuming foods which do not provide the required balance of micronutrients for good health. This is highly effective at displacing the delicate chemical balance that is required by cells. Avoiding processed Western foods and consuming more plant foods is effective at redressing this imbalance and improving health.


1Gillespie, C., Maalouf, J., Yuan, K., Cogswell, M. E., Gunn, J. P., Levings, J., Moshfegh, A., Ahuja, J. K. C. and Merrin, R. 2015. Sodium content in major brands of US packaged foods, 2009. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 101(2): 344-353

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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