Sometimes I think reading the nutrition labels in the grocery -- or worse yet, in your pantry -- is a sure route to depression. So many foods that seem healthy are full of things you'd rather not eat, and sodium is probably the worst and most ubiquitous.
In fairness, some of that is inherent in the process. Salt retards the growth of microbes, so adding it to preserved foods is one way to cut spoilage, extend shelf life and maintain quality. Food scientists call this the "multiple hurdle" strategy -- salt, plus refrigeration, plus chemicals, plus various other techniques or additives each reduce the likelihood of your food going bad. In addition, salt in the hot liquid required for canning improves the consistency of vegetables. Unfortunately, food processors tend to use considerably more salt than they strictly need for quality, because they know that salt makes things taste better.
Of course you can always buy the raw ingredients and cook your own, but that certainly removes much of the appeal of having those canned goods on the shelf ready for the last-minute meal. I have always kept canned beans on my staples list, great for making chili and adding to pasta and soups. But since I've gotten on my kick of checking sodium content, those beans suddenly look a lot less appetizing.
The good news is that you may be able to find equivalent products with far less sodium. At the grocery I found that among the canned Great Northern beans, you can buy Bush's Best with 460 mg of sodium or Kroger Private Selection organic with 125 mg. Among the kidney beans, Kroger has 440 mg, Bush's Best has 260 mg, and Kroger Private Selection organic has 120 mg.
So I'm going to keep buying canned beans, but sorry, Duke, it won't be Bush's Best. And I'm going to be sure to get rid of the canning liquid. You can reduce the sodium by 36% if you simply drain the beans, and by an additional 5% if you rinse them for ten seconds in running water.
Meanwhile, we visited our favorite ethnic grocery yesterday and loaded up on Goya dried beans. (Dried beans, of course, have zero sodium.) Goya has varieties not found in the ordinary supermarket and the quality is excellent. I'm particularly enamored of Goya's canellini, which cook up rich and creamy. The last time I made them, instead of adding a teaspoon of salt, or a tablespoon of Penzey's Galena Street seasoning, as I would normally do when cooking bean soup, I simply added a lot of black pepper and garlic. At the table we used a pinch of sea salt but a lot less than would have been there in my regular cooking method. (It may be time to change my regular cooking method!)