5 Flavor-Rich Ways to Cut Sodium

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 22, 2014
3 min read

Cutting back on salt? Your food can still be tasty.

There are many ways to create flavorful food without using salt. Use these tips to make your food anything but bland.

“Don’t shy away from spices,” says nutritionist Katie Cavuto, MS, RD. “A dash of cumin or a pinch of curry powder creates a lot of flavor without added salt.”

Seasoning your food with herbs and spices may be the best way to create flavorful foods when you’re cutting down on sodium. (Check the package to make sure there’s no added salt.)

Try different blends for new flavor combinations. Experiment as you go. Or use these tried-and-true winners:

  • Parsley isn’t just pretty -- it adds a peppery, earthy flavor to brown or wild rice, soups, pasta, and eggs.
  • Add fresh basil to cooked pasta, a panini, a turkey sandwich, or a veggie wrap.
  • Season beef with bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, pepper, sage, or thyme.
  • Spice up your chicken with paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon, or thyme.
  • Toss a grain salad with dried fruits and nuts and a pinch of fresh mint.
  • Pair cilantro with spicy foods, roasted chicken, or quinoa.
  • Season salmon with fresh dill.
  • Season eggs with basil, dill, and parsley.
  • Roast vegetables with basil, parsley, and savory.
  • Season barbecued meats with cumin, garlic, hot pepper, and oregano.
  • Toss a mixture of marjoram and sage onto your poultry before cooking.
  • Make tomato sauce using basil, a bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, and parsley.

Strong-tasting ingredients like garlic, onions, ginger, and hot peppers boost the flavor quotient of your entrée or side dish.

“Sauteing lean meats or veggies in olive oil and garlic gives them a nice flavor without added salt,” says nutritionist Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD.

Then toss in other ingredients (like whole grains or beans), for a simple, flavorful dish. Or add your sautéed meat or vegetable to pasta, sauce, or eggs.

Make pesto by combining leftover herbs with olive oil, garlic, lemon or lime, and toasted nuts, then mixing them together with a food processor. Smother it on top of meats, or spread it on sandwiches. It also makes a great veggie dip or pasta sauce.

Boost flavor and heat by adding hot peppers to chili, salsa, and tacos. Try jalapeno peppers or another variety.

Try citrus juice as a flavor booster. “A squeeze of lemon goes a long way in making flavors pop,” Cavuto says. It brightens flavors in a way that mimics salt. Squirt lemon juice on fish. Try lemon or lime zest in salad dressings, green salads, fish, or chicken.

Craft your own low-sodium marinade for lean meats and cooked vegetables. Try experimenting with different ingredients like vinegar, citrus fruits, honey, low-sodium broth, and a variety of spices.

Make your own salad dressing. “Swap out store-bought dressings that often have added salt for a simple homemade vinaigrette,” Jacobsen says. “One of my favorites is three parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar, and a crushed garlic clove.”

“Eat real food,” Cavuto says. “Processed foods are loaded with sodium.” Plus, fresh ingredients tend to have more flavor.

Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season. That’s when they’re most flavorful. Make a side dish of fresh corn in the summer. In the fall, go for squash or pumpkin.

When you can’t get fresh veggies, try frozen. And be careful with canned goods. They can be loaded with salt. Rinse beans from the can to wash away the sodium. When you're choosing soups, broths, and diced tomatoes, look for those lower in sodium.

Make your own cold cuts. Skip the sodium-laden deli meat, and create a fresh, flavorful sandwich at home by roasting a turkey and slicing it for sandwiches.

Use fresh seasonings when possible. “Fresh herbs are bright and refreshing and add a ton of flavor to any dish,” Cavuto says.

If you use these tricks, you probably won’t miss the salt. But if you do, try a dash of an alternative seasoning at the table.

  • Try mineral-rich seaweed flakes instead of reaching for salt, Cavuto says.
  • Use a tiny bit of sea salt. It's coarser than table salt, so just a few flakes of it give you flavor. But it's still salt, so don't overdo it.
  • Instead of topping your sandwich with mayo, which may contain salt, try a sliced avocado.