Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on SaltDiet & Nutrition

Low Sodium Diets: How to Cut Down on Salt

Do you enjoy salty snacks? Do you often find yourself reaching for the salt shaker at the dinner table? In general, people eat much more sodium (salt) than they should. But why is it important to watch the amount of sodium you eat? It is important because the more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure becomes, which in turn can harm your health in the long run. Some conditions, such as certain heart and kidney problems, cause the body to hold onto sodium, which causes extra fluid to build up in the body. This extra fluid forces the heart to work harder. Therefore, if you live with chronic conditions, it is especially important to control the amount of sodium you eat. This article will cover the essential information you need to know that will make it simple to cut down salt and start on a low sodium diet.


Understanding Sodium

Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on Salt teaspoon

So how much sodium should you be consuming in a day? While for most people it is recommended to not go over 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, for those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney problems, the daily limit for sodium is even lower– 1,500 mg ideally, but no more than 2,000 mg.

Pop quiz: How many milligrams of sodium are in one small teaspoon of salt?

Answer: 2,300 milligrams!

1 teaspoon of salt
=
2,300 mg of sodium

Surprised? What this means is that adding any salt to your meals can cause you to go over the recommended limit. So is it even possible to stay within this recommended limit? Yes–it is possible! And today I will discuss exactly how.


Low Sodium Diets: How to Get Started

– Step 1 –
Start Using These Tips for Cutting Down Sodium

Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on Salt high

Sometimes, when we really start to think about all the things we eat that contain sodium, following a low sodium diet may seem like an impossible feat. But it is definitely not! And here are some easy places to start…

 Practical Tips for Cutting Down Sodium

Take the salt shaker off the table. Remember–salt is salt regardless of whether it is sea salt, kosher salt, or Himalayan salt…it is still salt and will have the same effects on your body.

◊ Cut back on processed foods. These are notorious for their sodium content.

 Choose more fresh foods when possible. These products are naturally lower in sodium.

Adjust your taste buds gradually. At home, experiment with spices, herbs, garlic, and lemon juice instead of salt.

Go for the alternative. Start looking for low-sodium versions of your favorite food products.

Check the labels. Sodium levels of similar foods often vary widely by brand. Try to find foods where each serving size has no more than 200-300 mg of sodium.

Set a rule for yourself. When picking entrees or main food items, allow yourself no more than one food item with more than 600 mg of sodium

– Step 2 –
Look for Sodium Content on Food Labels

Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on Salt

Once you start following the above tips, you are already at a great start on your low sodium diet. The next step is to be more aware of the actual amount of sodium in the foods you eat. This is done by looking at the nutritional information label. Reading food labels is the best way to gauge how much salt you are consuming and the only way you can ensure that you are within your daily sodium limit. This is because many foods can have large amounts of ‘hidden’ sodium without actually tasting salty –thus it can ‘trick’ you into ingesting more sodium than you intend to.

Get into the habit of checking the food label whenever you shop, as you plan your meals, and as you cook each day. The label makes it easy to determine the amounts of nutrients you’re getting and to compare one product to another.

A good rule of thumb when shopping:

→ Food items: Select foods that have no more than 300 mg of sodium per serving.

→ Meals: Each meal should have no more than 600 mg of sodium per serving.

– Step 3 –
Get an Idea of Low and High-Sodium Foods

Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on Salt low list

TIPS: Try to eat more of these low sodium foods:

○ Beans, peas, rice, lentils, or whole wheat pasta
○ Fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned in juice)
○ Fresh meats, poultry, and fish
○ Milk
○ Vegetables (fresh and plain frozen)
○ Yogurt

TIPS: Avoid these high sodium foods:

○ Bacon, lunch meats, sausage, chipped beef, hot dogs, canned meats/fish/beans
○ Canned vegetables/soups
○ Fast food and take out like Chinese food and pizza
○ Store bought canned foods, unless the label says “no salt added”
○ Canned soup, unless they are Low Sodium varieties.
○ TV dinners
○ Pickles and olives
○ Barbecue sauce, soy sauce (even “lite” soy sauce), dry salad mixes, garlic salt, taco seasoning, onion salt, ketchup, seasoned salt, pickle relish

– Step 4 –
Recognize Red Flag Ingredients

Low Sodium Diets How to Cut Down on salt powder

One last thing to remember— foods do not need to taste salty to have a lot of sodium!

Beware of the sodium content in foods with these ingredients:

⊗ Sodium chloride or NaCl
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – very commonly used in Asian cuisine
⊗ Baking soda and baking powder
⊗ Disodium phosphate (a common food additive)
Anything that you see with “sodium” or “ Na” in its name

I encourage you to take a moment to write out your favorite foods and seasonings and to identify the high-sodium ones (you can use this handy Sodium Log). Now, try to identify some lower-sodium alternatives that you would be willing to try instead.

So while following a heart healthy and low sodium diet may seem like a difficult lifestyle change to make, remember– every little step counts…especially when it comes to cutting out sodium. Don’t try to make all the changes at once; pick one that you think is the most doable, and tackle that first. With every healthy diet change you make, know that you are making a difference in your health, and be proud of your accomplishment!

*The information presented in “Low Sodium Diets: How to Cut Down on Salt” can be found in Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.

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Want to keep this information handy for future reference?

Below are two printable handouts with all these low sodium diet tips and more!

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Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH

As a physician, author, and managing editor of PhoebeMD: Medicine + Poetry, Dr. Chi aims to inspire, educate, and empower the reader community. With a focus on health promotion and disease prevention, Dr. Chi has developed chronic disease management programs aimed at reducing hospitalizations and enhancing the quality of life for those living with chronic conditions. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions and the founder of Pendants for a Cause–a nonprofit organization that creates handcrafted sea glass jewelry for the purpose of raising funds to fight illness and provide care to medically vulnerable populations around the world.


22 replies »

  1. Thanks for your wonderful article. It was clear and informative in a way that I also strive to write. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery. So I have reblogged your post, not just because it’s a great post but because I know that it will very useful to many of the patients I care for.

  2. Reblogged this on Truck Driver Physicals & NYC TLC Physicals |Queens,NY and commented:
    Many truck drivers admit to eating poorly and consuming large amounts of sodium. This blog should make it clear to drivers that it only takes a small amount of salt (1 teaspoon) to more than exceed the daily allowance for most of us, just by adding salt at the table or choosing foods with high salt content to begin with. It has been reported that more than 80 million Americans have high blood pressure and two thirds are overweight and obese. It is no wonder that with poor lifestyle choices like smoking, lack of exercise and consumption of high caffeine soft drinks, many of the drivers I see have high blood pressure. This not only affects their health, but limits the duration of their certification to perform their jobs. So drivers, read this very informative post and take your health and wellbeing , as well as your future into your own hands! Remember, none of us are perfect. I speak to you not only as a medical practitioner but also as a person living with hypertension for more than 15 years, and just doing my best.

  3. Thanks Phoebe! I’m always looking for ways to improve my health. Sodium doesn’t always show up in my radar. I appreciate the reminder.

    Oh, and welcome back to the blog. Missed you!

  4. A good post. Although we are always being told to cut down on salt, people don’t seem to take it in. I feel very smug because I almost never eat ready-prepared meals. I always cook my meals from scratch, even soup. I think too many people have the idea they don’t have time, but I cooked nutritious meals for my family while I was working full time, getting home at 6pm, and also having to work in the evening as well. (I was a teacher and had marking and preparation to do.) At weekends I had housework and shopping, so I don’t believe people are too busy now.
    Yes, I have sausages and bacon on occasions, but they aren’t a regular part of my diet. People really ought to think more about what they eat.
    Sorry, this sounds like blowing my own trumpet, but it’s not intended to be, just showing that it is possible to be busy and prepare your own foods.
    A slow cooker is an excellent investment if you think you get in too late to cook. Leave it on all day and your meal is ready as soon as you walk in. It’s also possible to cook meals in the microwave, but you have to be careful what you prepare. Chicken works, but it wouldn’t be any good for a stew.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes you are right; despite knowing the benefits of a low-salt diet, most people still have trouble following one. I commend you on your cooking habits; it does go to show that while it takes some effort and planning, it IS possible. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  5. TV dinners are tough…they’re quick and inexpensive, some even claim they’re diet foods, but the salt is probably sky high. Thanks for the insight!

  6. Wow! So helpful and comprehensive. Thanks! I started monitoring salt and sugar within the past few years but need this reminder to pay closer attention. Appreciate it!

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