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The Sodium Deception: Unraveling False Low-Sodium Food Labels

Hershey cholate bar nutrition label: Even sweet treats come with sodium info.

Yes, even Hershey chocolate bars have nutrition labels! This is my favorite label to check out...can you tell I love chocolate?!

But seriously, I was on a support group for high blood pressure this morning and came across someone that was looking for a good low sodium soup for lunch. I started looking at some recipes but decided to take a peek once again at what’s available in the soup aisle of the grocery store.

Personally, I think it’s easier to look up the nutrition information online before going to the store, since it’s not that much fun blocking the aisle of one of the most popular places in the store while you compare nutrition content in a bunch of cans.

low salt diet for high blood pressure nutrition labelBack in 2009, I thought I was seeing things when I saw the low sodium tomato soup label with the same mg's as the regular tomato soup.

I didn’t even notice this before, but if you look carefully, not only is the sodium level the same, but they lowered the potassium level by more than half! They didn’t advertise that fact tho.

For some reason, my thoughts went to “they must have gotten the label wrong!” So I wrote the company to make sure they knew. I know - how na├»ve! But they knew.

They didn't reply to me, but when ABC News took up the matter with them around the end of February 2010 and 4 women in New Jersey also started a lawsuit against them, they replied.

(Be sure to read to the bottom to see the June 2019 update! 

Low salt diet for high blood pressure nutrition label

Campbell's Reply
The Consumerist” website states,Campbell’s reply is that the “25% less sodium” claim is as compared to the average of “all varieties” of condensed soup, not tomato.”
Then Campbell soup is quoted as saying to Reuters, “Campbell has complete confidence in the accuracy of our labels and our marketing communications and that they meet regulatory and other legal requirements.”

Part of the lawsuit was because the price of the low sodium variety was $1.49 while the regular style was .99, with the same mg.

In other words, be sure to read the whole label, and don’t fall for the front picture that has a 25% less sodium symbol on it. To Campbell's credit, they seem to have gotten rid of the tomato soup with that claim.

At the bottom of this post, you can find the update as of June 12, 2019 that shows current info on Campell's nutrition labels.

Current Sodium in Campbell's Soup
Here are the amounts of sodium in their various Campbell's tomato soups:

Tomato (regular)                            480 mg       1/2 cup
Tomato bisque                                880 mg       1/2 cup

Healthy Request Tomato               410 mg       1/2 cup

Classic Tomato On The Go           410 mg       10 oz (1 cup)

Did you notice the amount of soup you can have for each serving? 1/2 cup isn’t going to fill you up very much!

Low Salt Diet for High Blood Pressure nutrition label

The exception to that is the Classic Tomato on the Go –where they pretty much admit that one serving should be 1 cup! How funny!
Just for kicks, I just went in and measured 1/2 cup into a cereal bowl, and it came just to maybe 1/2 inch up from the bottom. So very likely if you have a bowl of soup, it’s going to be about double the mg amount at least.

Other popular foods labels are just as guilty of being misleading. Swanson chicken stock could be in that category. It’s possible they could be changing things up for the better because at some point they became owned by Campbell’s.
Online, Swanson doesn’t list the low sodium variety anymore, but at one time, it was 570 mg for low sodium.
Now, get this – their regular chicken stock has 510 mg!
I haven’t bought their chicken stock for a while, because I discovered Rachael Ray’s regular chicken stock has less mg’s (480).

Swanson has have an unsalted variety now that has 130 mg. Not sure it’s very popular because I haven’t seen it at Walmart at all yet.

Another choice is to make stock yourself with tap water, a few aromatics like carrots, onions, celery & garlic along with chicken bones or wings. Then you have control of any sodium content in anything you make. What a concept!

Moral of the story: Just read labels – nutrition content & all. Or check online before going to the store.

UPDATE JUNE 12, 2019: Out of curiosity, I rechecked Campbell's website, and they now only carry two low-sodium soups: 25% Less Sodium Chicken Noodle and 25% Less Sodium Cream of Mushroom. Both of them came in with barely more than 25% less sodium...but they did meet that requirement!

For the other soups, they do offer Healthy Request soups: their tomato soup has 70 mg less sodium than the regular flavor, and the potassium level is actually higher by 10 mg.

I guess lawsuits work...or they came around to healthier thinking? I'd like to believe that the second theory is true. How about you?

2ND UPDATE MARCH 25, 2023 A quick search of Swanson stock nutrition on the Campbell's website (where Swanson food is now) shows new options since my last search in 2019. 

You can now find Swanson Unsalted Chicken Broth with only 100 mg of sodium, Organic Chicken Stock with 500 mg sodium, and Low Sodium Organic Chicken Broth (not stock) with 140 mg of sodium.

Here's where you can find the nutrition for Swanson chicken and beef stock information. 

From other sources, chicken stock is considered healthier than chicken broth, because of the collagen from the bones (yay, collagen!)  but in cooking, I'm betting either would work. In fact, I've used broth in recipes that called for stock.