Six teen salt bombs

Teens eat the saltiest diet, and many of those culprit foods are found on supermarket shelves, including those that are stocked with foods designed to make our lives easier. (Al Behrman / AP)

Who’s eating America’s saltiest diet? Teenagers — who get an average of 3,800 milligrams of sodium a day, way beyond the 1,500 to 2,300 mg recommended by heart-health experts. But the foods that boost the average teen’s intake of blood pressure-boosting sodium go beyond salt-studded Philly soft pretzels, salt-crusted French fries and trendy treats like salted-caramel cookies. (More reporting here.)

The biggest offenders are often the foods we serve at home — and pack for lunch. A brand-new CDC report, released Tuesday, says 10 everyday foods are responsible for 44 percent of the sodium in our diets. (More from the CDC report here.) Helping teens cut back now is an investment in lifelong good health. According to University of California San Francisco researchers, trimming teen sodium could reduce their risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes in their adult years by 5 percent to 43 percent. 

Salt bombs in your teen’s diet include:

  • Pizza. The UCSF researchers say its No. 1, thanks to sodium in the crust, sauce, cheese and in meat toppings like pepperoni, sausage and ham. Two slices of one popular pizza chain’s meat-topped pizza deliver over 1,600 mg of sodium.
  • Bread. Two slices of whole-wheat bread pack about 240 mg of sodium (it varies by brand, of course) — close to the 270 mg in a medium-sized bag of fast-food fries.
  • Deli meat and cheese. Two ounces of Virginia ham pack 450 mg of sodium. Pair it with two slices of bread, a dab of mayo and a slice of cheese and you’ve got more sodium than a fast-food cheeseburger.   
  • Pasta dishes. One cup of canned ravioli and sauce has nearly 1,000 mg of sodium  — more than a drive-through double hamburger. A cup of macaroni and cheese has more than 500 mg.
  • Soup. One cup of chunky chicken noodle soup from a can packs 889 mg of sodium — as much as three big handfuls of barbecued potato chips.
  • Breakfast cereal. A cup and a half of corn flakes has about 500 mg of sodium.

What can you do? About 65 percent of the sodium we eat comes from foods we buy at the supermarket or at convenience stores.  Check the nutrition facts on the label first — and try out lower- or no-sodium versions of the foods your family eats most often.