How to Limit Your Sodium
It's estimated that nearly 70% of the U.S. population is salt-sensitive, in particular, people over 40 years old, African Americans, and those with high blood pressure.
These groups need to reduce sodium in order to cut their risk of heart disease and stroke.
While we need some sodium for our bodies to function properly, 1,500 mg a day is enough (that's about one teaspoon of salt). Due to diets that include many foods already high in salt, adult Americans are getting more than twice the daily need.
It's a startling statistic, but it's believed that 100,000 deaths could be prevented each year if Americans reduced the amount of salt in their diets.
Though salt is in foods all around you, three steps can help you lower the sodium in your diet:
- decrease the amount of processed food you eat
- cook most meals at home using the right kinds of foods
- make good choices when eating out
Decrease processed foods
Only about 10% of the sodium in our diet comes from the salt we add to food once it’s on the table. So while it helps to keep the salt shaker at bay, it’s even more important to watch the sodium content of our foods, especially packaged ones.
Those pre-packaged, prepared foods – frozen, boxed, or canned – may be convenient, but many are loaded with sodium.
If you use packaged foods, be sure to read nutrition labels carefully, especially serving sizes. Select the lowest-sodium option.
These food items are among those highest in sodium:
- deli meats and cured meats like hot dogs and sausages
- snacks like crackers, chips, nuts
- frozen entrees, including pizzas
- canned soup
- some breads, cookies, cakes, and cereals
- other canned and frozen foods.
Don’t be fooled by products labeled “reduced sodium” – that simply means that the sodium is reduced by 25% from the original, and it could still be considered a high-sodium food.
Cook right at home
Try these tips from the American Dietetic Association to keep sodium levels in check at home:
Make good choices at the grocery store:
- Buy fresh vegetables whenever possible and only low-sodium canned or frozen vegetables when necessary.
- Choose fresh meat and fish, and avoid high-sodium deli meats.
- Read nutrition labels on packaged foods carefully and choose low- or no-sodium options.
- Be careful – low-fat or low-sugar foods often have added salt to enhance flavor.
Use as little salt in cooking as possible.
- You can cut at least half the salt from most recipes.
- Sea salt and kosher salt deliver more taste than table salt, so you may use less.
- Don’t salt your food when it gets to the table.
Use herbs, spices, and other seasonings to add flavor to your cooking without salt.
- Onions and garlic (or garlic powder), peppers, lemons and limes, ginger, flavored vinegars and oils, fresh or dried herbs, and ground spices all add flavor to your cooking.
- Make sure you have the right tools – a spice mill, garlic press, or citrus zester can make using these ingredients easier.
Don’t use mixes or prepared products that contain high levels of sodium.
- Make sure to choose low-sodium broth, soups, soy sauce, and so on.
- Even items like pancake mix, cereal or spaghetti sauce can have high levels of sodium.
- Select no-sodium or low-sodium canned foods such as vegetables, beans or tuna. Rinse these foods to remove some of the sodium.
Eat right when dining out
Try these tips for lowering your sodium intake when dining out:
- Eat at independent restaurants. Most allow meals to be cooked to order, while most fast food or casual chain restaurants simply assemble standard dishes, making it harder to request less salty options.
- Ask questions to learn about how dishes are prepared. Ask about spices, marinades and sauces, all of which can contain high levels of sodium.
- Choose simple foods that are grilled, roasted, baked or steamed. Avoid casseroles or complicated dishes with sauces.
- Get sauce or dressing on the side so you can control how much of it you eat...or skip the sauce altogether. Watch the cheese, olives and croutons, too.
- Choose condiments carefully – salsa, ketchup and mustard are low in fat and calories but high in sodium.
- Taste food before salting it and use table salt sparingly. Or bring your own low-sodium spice mix, like Mrs. Dash.
- Order simply prepared fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium. Get vegetables steamed with just a little lemon in place of butter or sauces.
Be especially aware of sodium when choosing ethnic restaurants.
Dishes at Asian restaurants, like Japanese, Thai and Chinese, tend to be high in sodium because they use lots of sauces and chicken stock.
Italian cooking can be high in sodium, too, using canned tomatoes and salty cheese.
You don’t have to avoid these restaurants altogether, just choose dishes carefully, round out your meal with a salad or steamed vegetables, and watch your portion sizes.
By cooking for yourself, checking the labels on processed foods, and making wise choices when you eat out, you can control the amount of salt in your diet. Lowering your sodium will help you eat well for better heart health.
Try these resources for recipes and tips for low-sodium living:
Low-sodium recipes and information on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet
Recipes that all have 140 mg of sodium or less
The American Dietetic Association
AARP - low sodium recipes
In addition, you can search online recipe sites or the cookbook section at your local library or favorite bookseller for low-sodium cookbooks