No need for a salt shaker on the Thanksgiving table: Unless you really cooked from scratch, there's lots of sodium already hidden in the menu.
Stealth sodium can do a number on your blood pressure. Americans eat way too much salt, and most of it comes inside common processed foods and restaurant meals.
The traditional Thanksgiving fixings show how easy sodium can sneak into the foods you'd least expect. Yes, raw turkey is naturally low in sodium. But sometimes a turkey or turkey breast is injected with salt water to plump it, adding a hefty dose of sodium before it even reaches the store — something you'd have to read the fine print to discover.
From the stuffing mix to the green bean casserole to even pumpkin pie, a lot of people can reach their daily sodium allotment or more in that one big meal unless the cook employs some tricks.
"For Thanksgiving or any meal, the more you can cook from scratch and have some control over the sodium that's going in, the better," says the American Dietetic Association's Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian at the Henry Ford Health Health System in Detroit.
In the U.S., the average person consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. The nation's new dietary guidelines say no one should eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium — about what's in a teaspoon of salt.
Depending on your choices, Thanksgiving dinner alone can pass 2,000 milligrams: About 600 per serving from stuffing mix, another 270 from gravy. The salt water-added turkey can bring another 320, double that if you saved time and bought it fully-cooked. Use canned beans in the green bean casserole and add another 350. A small dinner roll adds 130. A piece of pumpkin pie could bring as much as 350.
How to cut back? Thayer has some tips for Thanksgiving and beyond:
—All bread contains sodium, but starting with a homemade cornbread for stuffing could help cut a few hundred milligrams.
—Use low-sodium broth for the gravy, and choose low-sodium soups whenever possible.
—Try onion, garlic and a variety of other herbs in place of salt. Lemon and other citrus also can stand in for salt in some foods.
—Check your spice bottles. Combination products, such as those labeled poultry seasoning, can contain salt.
—Fresh or frozen vegetables have little if any sodium, unless you choose the frozen kind with an added sauce.
—People tend to heavily salt mashed potatoes while sweet potatoes, even dressed up as a souffle, contain very little sodium.
Going suddenly low-salt can startle your palate, "but it adjusts much quicker than I think most people realize," Thayer says.