Corn flakes comes to mind when most people think of a healthy breakfast. It’s the go-to breakfast staple for kids and adults alike. However, new research from a UK health group revealed that one bowl of the popular breakfast cereal can hold up to 50 percent of a day’s worth of recommended sodium intake.

High-Sodium Food Offenders

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) revealed that a number of favorite (and seemingly harmless) food and grocery essentials, such as breakfast cereal, canned tomato soup, and cheddar cheese, are a source of excessive salt. The group said this is despite major progress made before 2010 when the salt reduction program was run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a UK government body responsible for protecting public health. CASH attributes the rise in salt content to the halting of the salt reduction program and the adoption of a “voluntary system in which retailers and manufactures police themselves,” The Guardian reported.

“Under the FSA and CASH, the UK led the world in salt reduction,” Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of CASH, said in a statement. “It is a tragedy for public health that the coalition government in 2010 seized responsibility for nutrition from the FSA to the Department of Health where they made the food industry responsible for policing themselves. Unsurprisingly this has failed.”

According to U.S. Dietary Guidelines, adults and children over 14 years old should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day. Excess salt intake is a major contributor to high blood pressure, a condition that increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After surveying popular supermarket foods, CASH found that nearly half of canned tomato soups contained more salt per serving than two slice of Domino’s Cheese and Tomato Pizza, with the worst culprit being Baxters Vegetarian Italian Tomato and Basil with 3,500 milligrams of salt per serving — more salt than a McDonald's Big Mac and large fries.

Since the introduction of the of the voluntary system in 2010, 55 percent of soup products were found to contain the same amount or up to 50 more salt. Between 2004 and 2012, corn flakes saw a 56 percent reduction in salt content. Although further reductions have been made since then — CASH reported a 30 percent reduction in salt content in corn flakes since 2012 — the progress isn’t as significant. In fact, some corn flake brands have even increased their salt content. For example, Sainsbury’s Corn flakes saw a 42 percent increase from 720 milligrams per serving to 10 grams. Kellogg’s Corn flakes had the highest salt content of all corn flakes surveyed, with at least 1,130 milligrams per serving. That's more salt than a McDonald's Big Mac in just one bowl of corn flakes.

It’s well documented that consuming too much salt can negatively affect your brain, heart, and bone health. According to CASH, the best way to combat unnecessary deaths from hypertension-related health conditions is to implement a salt reduction program.

Halt the Salt

The vast majority of Americans consume more sodium than the recommended daily value — an average of more than 3,300 milligrams each day, according to the CDC. At least 77 percent of salt intake in the U.S. comes from packaged and restaurant foods. With that in mind, the New York City Health Department launched a National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) in 2008 to help prevent heart disease and stroke by reducing the amount salt in restaurant foods. The initiative is a public-private partnership of more than 95 state and local health authorities and national organizations, including the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and several state public health agencies.

As part of this plan, food producers agree to lower sodium levels deemed feasible for their food items. Between 2009 and 2012, 21 companies reduced the sodium content in their food, including Subway, which reduced sodium in its staple sandwich, the Italian BMT, by 27 percent. Last year, New York City became the first city in the nation to require chain restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium. Many chain restaurants including Applebee’s, Subway, and TGI Friday’s have already implemented the sodium warning rule.

Currently, only 28 companies have agreed to participate in the NSRI initiative and reduce sodium levels to “relevant targets” set by the NYC Health Department. A 2015 study found that the expansion of NRSI to a large sector of food manufacturers could avert 2 to 5 percent of heart attacks, and reduce strokes by 1 to 6 percent. The researchers concluded that expansion of the initiative is likely to significantly reduce the prevalence of high blood pressure as well as hypertension-related cardiovascular morbidity.

High salt intake can lead to heart failure, stroke and obesity, primarily due to the retention of water. Luckily, in addition to reducing salt intake, there are other ways to counteract the effects of high sodium intake. For example, increased water intake helps minimize the effect of salt intake by diluting “the fluid sodium retains,” Medical Daily previously reported. Also, consuming more bananas than usual after a salt binge adds more potassium to the diet which, in turn, can help manage the body’s balance of water.