Tips for cutting back on sodium
Virtually all Americans can benefit from reducing the sodium in their diets. Here are more ways you can cut back on sodium:
- Eat more fresh foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than are luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham. Buy fresh or frozen poultry or meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Look on the label or ask your butcher.
- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, choose those that are labeled "low sodium." Better yet, buy plain whole-grain rice and pasta instead of products that have added seasonings.
- Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, soups, stews and other main dishes that you cook. Look for cookbooks that focus on lowering risks of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Limit use of sodium-laden condiments. Soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
- Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to season foods. Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest and juice from citrus fruit to jazz up your meals. Sea salt, however, isn't a good substitute. It has about the same amount of sodium as table salt.
- Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute — and get too much sodium. Also, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Although potassium can lessen some of the problems from excess sodium, too much potassium can be harmful especially if you have kidney problems or if you're taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Sodium: Be a savvy shopper
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a typical 4-inch (10-centimeter) oat-bran bagel has about 600 mg of sodium, and even a slice of whole-wheat bread contains about 100 mg of sodium.
So how can you tell which foods are high in sodium? Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda (also called sodium bicarbonate)
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium nitrite
Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. And be sure you know how many servings are in a package — that information is also on the Nutrition Facts label.
Know the label lingo
The supermarket is full of foods labeled "reduced sodium" or "light in sodium." But don't assume that means they're low in sodium. For example, a can of chicken noodle soup that claims to have 25 percent less sodium still has a whopping 524 mg in 1 cup. It's only lower in salt compared with regular chicken noodle soup, which has more than 790 mg of sodium in a cup.
Here's a rundown on common sodium claims and what they really mean:
- Sodium-free or salt-free. Each serving in this product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
- Very low sodium. Each serving contains 35 mg of sodium or less.
- Low sodium. Each serving contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
What the other sodium label claims mean
- Reduced or less sodium. The product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version.
- Lite or light in sodium. The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version.
- Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium because some of the ingredients may be high in sodium.
Go low and take it slow
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. Consider using salt-free seasonings to help with the transition.
After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the saltshaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.
April 16, 2016
See more In-depth
- In brief: Your guide to lowering your blood pressure with DASH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/hbp-dash-in-brief-html. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Hypertension. First consult. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Sheps SG, ed. Mayo Clinic: 5 Steps to Controlling High Blood Pressure. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
- Get the facts: Sodium and the dietary guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf. Accessed March 10, 2016.
- Kaplan NM. Salt intake, salt restriction, and primary (essential) hypertension. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Executive summary: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Sodium and food sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Top 10 sources of sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/sources.htm. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Sodium in your diet: Use the Nutrition Facts label and reduce your intake. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm315393.htm. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Your guide to lowering blood pressure with DASH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/index.htm. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- Reducing sodium in a salty world. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDi...ducing-Sodium-in-a-Salty-World_UCM_457519_Article.jsp#.VuD81cfAju8. Accessed March 10, 2016.
- Sodium: Tips for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). National Kidney Disease Education Program. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/nkdep/a-z/nutrition-sodium/Pages/nutrition-sodium.aspx. Accessed March 10, 2016.
- Shaking the salt habit. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/Preventi...ressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp#.VuD_dsfAju8. Accessed March 10, 2016.
- Zeratsky KA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 11, 2016.