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Sodium Diet Guidelines

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A Registered Dietitian prepared the following basic-diet guidelines. If you have concerns, do consult with a dietitian. Many think the danger in high salt/sodium consumption is only in those with high blood pressure, but this is not necessarily so. Too much salt can harm healthy people’s hearts, lungs and can shorten the duration of their lives. Salt overload increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, cataracts, brittle bones, asthma, dementia and early death.

There are some doctors in doubt of these new-found facts and not all researchers are in agreement. Many feel that those who eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and get enough calcium are not in any danger from too much salt consumption. If you are in any doubt or are a bit concerned about your salt intake, or are on a blood pressure medication, by all means, discuss this with your doctor. Individualized diet counseling is highly recommended to address any personal, specific needs.

Salt Shaker

Why Limit Sodium?

Reducing salt intake may help manage blood pressure and prevent water retention. If you are taking medication for these conditions, it is still important to reduce salt intake to help the medication work more effectively.

Note: Pregnant women should not restrict the amount of sodium consumed to minimize water retention and swelling. Pregnancy actually increases the need for sodium.

How Much Sodium Should You Have?

2,000 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium was recommended as part of an overall healthy eating plan, but now the American Heart Association changed their stance to 1,500mg. Yet, the average adult eats 4,000 to 6,000mg per day. Persons with high blood pressure or other medical conditions may have to lower sodium to 2,000 milligrams or less daily.

Where is all the Salt Coming From?

  • 10 percent from a natural part of healthful foods.
  • 15 percent from a salt shaker.
  • 75 percent that is hidden in processed and restaurant foods.

How Can I Reduce My Sodium Intake?

Since salt (sodium chloride) is the primary source of sodium in the diet, limit use of the salt shaker first. In addition, limit processed foods as they contain approximately 3/4 of the sodium we consume. It is important to look at the label to check the amount of sodium in one serving and to determine the number of servings you normally consume.

Foods You Should Choose Most Often

oat Groats

  • Bread, rolls, crackers or breadsticks, without salted tops
  • Bagels, English muffins, most ready-to-eat cereals and cooked cereals
  • Rice, noodles and pasta
  • Low sodium vegetable juices and low sodium tomato and pasta sauces
  • Regular tomato or vegetable juices
  • Most fresh, frozen and canned fruits
  • All fruit juices and milk
  • Yogurt and/or reduced or low-sodium cheese
  • Any fresh or frozen meat, poultry or fish
  • Eggs and egg substitute
  • Low sodium peanut butter and/or unsalted nuts
  • Dry peas and beans
  • Reduce sodium frozen dinners (less than 800mg sodium each)
  • Low-sodium canned tuna
  • Low-sodium or unsalted salad dressings, soy sauce, catsup and condiments
  • Low-sodium bouillon and soups
  • Pepper, herbs, vinegar, lemon or lime juice
  • Coffee, tea, fruit drinks, powdered drink mixes and low-sodium carbonated beverages

Foods to Avoid

Canned foods

  • Bread, rolls, crackers and breadsticks with salt
  • Box mixes of quick breads and biscuits and instant hot cereals
  • Seasoned box mixes of pasta, rice or stuffing
  • Regular tomato and pasta sauces
  • Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and olives
  • Commercial potato and vegetable mixes
  • Frozen vegetables with sauces and fruits processed with salt or sodium
  • Buttermilk, processed cheese, cheese spread, cheese sauces and natural cheeses
  • Smoked, cured, salted or canned meat, poultry, fish or seafood, including ham, bacon, sausage, cold cuts, sardines
  • Breaded frozen meat, fish or poultry items, salted nuts and pizza
  • Salad dressings with more than 250mg sodium per 2 tablespoon serving
  • Regular soups, broth, soup bases or bouillon cubes
  • Gravies and sauces made from instant mixes or other high sodium ingredients
  • Salted snack foods, softened water and sea salt
  • Meat tenderizers and meat sauces and soy sauce (regular or reduced sodium)

Salt/Sodium Tips

  • Cook cereals, rice and pasta without adding salt
  • You can omit salt or decrease salt in most recipes for baked goods
  • Season vegetables with herbs, spices or lemon juice instead of salt, ham, bacon or salt pork
  • Choose fresh or frozen more often because canned contain added sodium
  • Dairy products have moderate amounts of sodium. Milk and yogurt are lower in sodium than most cheeses - natural cheeses are usually lower in sodium than processed
  • Choose low-sodium reduced-sodium or salt-free foods and processed meats
  • Prepare additional fresh meats to use in sandwiches
  • Use herbs and spices, instead of salt to season your food
  • Try air-popped popcorn with salt-free seasoning
  • The following ingredients contain large amounts of sodium: Salt, brine, broth, pickled, smoked, soy sauce, barbecue sauce and monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Always Read the Label

Salt has many different names. So even if you make the extra effort to read food labels and search for the amount of salt in the product, it can be difficult to determine. The following list contains a few of salt's aliases: Sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate and disodium. Other products with a large sodium content include hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy sauce, miso and brine.

Interpreting the Labels

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is making an effort to create public awareness of the amount of salt in store products. "By appropriately labeling, we are attempting to inform the public and those who want to keep their sodium intake down as to the amount of sodium they are consuming," says Ida Yoder, a chemist with the FDA's over-the-counter drug products division.

But some salt descriptors are not so cut and dry. Use the following list as a guideline to help determine the approximate number of milligrams of salt in a product.

  • Sodium free -- Contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium -- 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low Sodium -- 140 mg or less per serving Reduced Sodium -- Contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the original product
  • Without added salt -- No salt is added during processing to a product which would normally have salt added
  • No salt added -- Unsalted

Fresh is Best

Avoid processed foods in the grocery store and head directly to the fresh fruit and vegetable aisle instead. Rather than adding salt to these fresh food items while cooking, use unsalted butter or salt alternatives. Many salt substitutes, such as NoSalt, are sodium-free but taste like the real thing. By incorporating salt substitutes and other spices into your cooking, you can still add flavor to food while skipping the sodium. You can also use a variety of spice substitutes as salt alternatives like Seasoned NoSalt.

If you do buy canned vegetables, rinsing them in water for one minute can reduce their sodium content by 40 percent. Also, it is important to resist the temptation of fast food, which also usually has a high salt content.

If you have questions or concerns about your diet, or if you need a diet of 3,000mg sodium or lower, a diet instruction with a registered dietitian is necessary. The individualized diet instruction can provide the following.

  • Label reading, shopping, food preparation and dining out
  • Combining other diet restrictions if necessary
  • Attention to personal preferences and ethnic and religious choices

Salt Sense

To make salt-smart choices while you are grocery shopping, check the labels and opt for low/reduced sodium whenever possible. By doing so, you can keep your sodium intake in check. It is a good idea to be sure you look for low/reduced sodium particularily in processed food products, as these tend to be very high in sodium content.

Comparison of some sodium-reduced foods and their regular counterparts:

  • Reduced-sodium chicken broth: 140 milligrams less sodium per cup.
  • Lower-sodium red kidney beans: 12 milligrams less sodium per 15-ounce can.
  • Lower-sodium black beans: 740 milligrams less sodium per 15-ounce can.
  • Low-sodium whole tomatoes: 620 milligrams less sodium per 14-1/2-ounce can.
  • Low-sodium tomato paste: 360 milligrams less sodium per 6-ounce can.

Canned beans are very convenient! You may not always have the time to cook them from the dried stage.

In regards to the sodium in canned beans; no worries! Many brands of canned beans now come in low-sodium versions. Canned beans are as nutritionally beneficial as those cooked from dried -- with protein, minerals, and lots of fibers.

Sodium Surprise:

Ruffles potato chips have 190mg of sodium in one ounce (equal to about 12 chips). Rold Gold Fat Free pretzels have a whopping 470mg of sodium in one ounce (about 15 pretzels).


Download free (no strings): Tips for a Low Sodium Diet (PDF)