Part of healthy eating is eating less sodium, or salt.
Does this sound hard?
It doesn't have to be, but you do have to think about it. You need to do more than just not use the salt shaker. After all, almost all foods contain sodium naturally or as an ingredient.
You can start reducing the sodium in your diet by:
- Reading labels to see how much sodium foods contain.
- Limiting packaged foods and restaurant foods, which typically are high in sodium.
- Not adding salt to your food during cooking or at the table.
- Using low-sodium spices and sauces to add flavor to your food. Low-sodium foods can still be tasty!
How can you reduce the amount of sodium you eat?
- Talk with your doctor about sodium. You'll learn how eating too much sodium may affect you and how much you may need to cut back. Have questions ready to ask.
- Talk with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD can help you find out how much salt you are eating and find ways to cut back on salt. An RD can also teach you how to choose low-salt foods when eating out and make suggestions for low-sodium recipes and meals.
- Remember that the biggest source of sodium in the diet is not salt added at the table. In general, the biggest source of sodium is processed foods and foods from restaurants. Processed foods include canned foods, frozen dinners, and packaged foods such as crackers and chips. They also include dry mixes, such as those you add to hamburger or noodles.
- If you'd like, keep a sodium record. It can show you how much sodium you eat at a meal or during the day. If you have heart failure, use a record that allows you to also record your weight(What is a PDF document?).
- If you don't cook for yourself, let those who help you know that you want to eat less sodium. Show this information to family members, friends, or senior centers or other organizations.
Avoid high-sodium foods
Try not to eat high-sodium foods. These include:
- Smoked, cured, salted, and canned meat, fish, and poultry.
- Ham, bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats.
- Hard and processed cheese and some types of peanut butter.
- Frozen prepared meals.
- Canned vegetables and soups, broths, and bouillon.
- Salted snack foods, such as chips and crackers.
- Pickles, sauerkraut, seasonings high in salt, and other condiments. These include steak sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, mustard, ketchup, and especially soy sauce. Even light soy sauce is still very high in sodium.
- Most restaurant food, especially fast food like french fries, hamburgers, pizza, and tacos.
Cook with less sodium
- Use fresh fruits and vegetables (or frozen vegetables) and fresh meat. These contain less sodium than canned foods or meats like lunch meat, bacon, ham, and jerky.
- Pick dairy products that are lower in salt, such as milk and yogurt instead of cheese.
- If you use canned vegetables, drain and rinse them with fresh water. This removes some—but not all—of the salt. Or choose "no salt added" canned vegetables.
- Flavor your food with garlic, lemon juice, onion, vinegar, herbs, and spices instead of salt. Make your own salt-free seasoning, salad dressings, sauces, and ketchup without adding salt.
- Take the salt shaker off the table to avoid adding salt to your food. Try using half the salt a recipe calls for.
- Don't cook with (or drink) softened water.
- Try a low-sodium cookbook. It can be a big help if you aren't sure how to reduce the salt in your cooking.
Know how to find sodium
If you know how much sodium is in foods, you can have more flexibility in what you eat. If you eat one high-sodium food, you can balance it with very low-sodium foods during the rest of the day. To do this:
- Use the Nutrition Facts on food labels .
- Learn how to find sodium. This includes finding hidden sodium, keeping track of milligrams of sodium, and understanding what labels such as "low-sodium" mean.
Return to Healthy Eating: Eating Less Sodium
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014