Since chronic excess sodium is associated with hypertension and other debilitating conditions, looking for ways to keep your sodium intake under control makes good health sense. An acute sodium overdose may cause immediate medical symptoms, such as cracked, bleeding lips, nausea, and, in extreme cases, death. If you’d like to reduce or even remove salt from your diet, here are some suggestions to help you follow a low sodium diet.
Understand the dangers of using too much salt. Salt has been linked to hypertension and increased blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is a cause of heart disease and premature death.
- Too much salt can also exacerbate or contribute to diabetes, cataracts, kidney disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer. Salt also increases the opportunities for swelling and water retention.
Read the food labels to learn about the sodium content of foods you consume regularly. A little knowledge about the sodium content of the food you eat daily can go a long way to convincing you of the need to cut back on too much salt. When shopping for groceries, start the habit of reading the label to find the sodium content.
- A good rule of thumb is to compare the listed number of calories per serving with the number of milligrams of sodium, and to avoid products where the sodium number is greater than the calorie number. Assuming a 2500 calorie-a-day diet, this strategy should keep you within the recommended sodium range.
- Sodium comes in a range of forms and it is all salt; when reading labels, look for sodium, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, sodium sorbate etc. and avoid these additional sources of salt.
- Sea salt, rock salt and flavored salts are still salt; avoid them.
- Keep an eye on condiments. Soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, peanut butter, and various other things you might slather on have salt in them; read those labels, too.
Taste your food in its natural or cooked state. If you want to follow a low sodium diet, always try your food before adding salt. If you’re the type who habitually salts your food, reach for the fork before you reach for the salt and relearn to appreciate the flavor of food without salt.
After an initial surprise at what seems bland, this will soon fade and you’ll grow to realize how easily salt masks the true and delicious flavors of food.It will take two to three months for your senses to stop craving salt. However, the good news is that taste buds adapt very quickly and within three weeks you should be able to discern a real difference in the taste of food and begin to find the addition of salt unpleasant.
- Appreciate the basics. A slice of wheat bread, even unbuttered, has a grainy taste to it, but it may also be slightly sweet.
When Eating at Home
Stop adding salt to your cooking unless it is absolutely necessary. Halve the amounts that recipes suggest and keep halving. If possible, add salt near the end of the cooking process or just before eating. This way, less salt will suffice since there is less time for it to penetrate into food.
- Don’t add salt to boiling water. You may wish to make an exception for cooking pasta, since a bit of salt raises the boiling point and you will generally drain most of the water.
Add non-salty seasonings in place of salt. There is a range of delicious alternatives to salt that you can add into your diet to help you move away from salt. These include:
- Herbs- fresh and dried, not stale
- Spices- good, fresh and in-date
- Lemon, lime juice- freshly squeezed is best
- Garlic- freshly pressed
- Fresh vegetables and meat – ensure that you buy the freshest and consume quickly while the flavors are still excellent; make sure to store produce well also to retain the flavors longest
- Vegetable salt- when trying to cut down, replacing with vegetable salt may help you to make the shift across to using less salt
- Oregano, lemon juice, and pepper- can do wonderful things for chicken and other meat
- Heat it up – chili powder, hot sauce, or salsa can all add a bit of zing
Avoid processed foods. Fresh produce, meat, and freshwater fish are typically salt-free or extremely low sodium, while processed and restaurant foods, such as soups and frozen dinners, are usually quite high in sodium.
- If you don’t have access to fresh vegetables, then sodium-free or low sodium canned vegetables are better than high sodium canned vegetables.
- Many frozen vegetables are low in sodium as well. Get into the habit ofreading labels for sodium content. Remember, you can always add salt, if it’s really needed, later.
Evaluate seasonings for sodium content. Many products, such as bullion and stock cubes, bacon bits, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, and assorted “seasonings” are mostly salt, so avoid those, whenever possible.
- Instead of ketchup, mustard and pickle, try lettuce, onion and tomato on your burger.
Change your salting habits at the table. Don’t reach for the salt shaker. When reducing, shake only once rather than going completely cold turkey and gradually wean yourself off this habit. Beware of condiments – many sauces and other toppings contain high amounts of salt.
- Take the salt shaker Put it in a cabinet or drawer so that using it will be a conscious act. By not using salt when cooking or eating, many people can reduce their sodium intake by 30 percent.
Remove sodium from the surface of foods. For some products, the salt can be removed, such as by draining canned olives and soaking them in fresh water, or crumbling salt off the surface of pretzels or saltines. Choose “salt on top” products over those with salt mixed in.
- For example, avoid buying saltines with “unsalted tops”, as the salt is typically inside the crackers instead of on top, making it impossible to remove. “Salt on top” products also provide more salt taste per amount of sodium, so are a good choice from that perspective, as well.
Eat at home. It may be difficult or impossible to control the sodium content of foods prepared by others, whether you eat at somebody else’s home or at a restaurant. Eating at home more often means that you can be assured of the sodium content of your food.
When Eating Out
Avoid the foods you know are salty. Nibbles at the bar or on the table can be the saltiest things you’ll experience and they’re very easy to snack away on without even thinking. Be very careful when around bowls and platters of pretzels, pickles, crackers, potato chips, and French fries. They all get their moreish flavor from generous helpings of salt.
Ask for the salt to be left off chips or fries and other fast foods or ask the waiter about low sodium menu options. Just as it is often possible to have certain things left out of dishes, salt might be something else that can be left out.
- If you eat at restaurants that cook the meals fresh each time, you will have a better chance of this than at those restaurants where everything comes pre-prepared.
- Prefer the lower salt alternative, such as thebaked potato over the French fries.
Watch what you drink. Many drinks are quite high in sodium, such as a small Burger King chocolate shake, with 298 mg of sodium.
- If you’re thirstier after you finish the drink, that’s a sure sign of the drink’s high sodium content.
Others Solutions for a Low Sodium Diet
Keep a food diary for a week. Record everything you consume, including beverages and seasonings, and find out how much sodium each item contains. Eliminate the highest sodium sources and replace them with no-sodium or low-sodium substitutes.
Look for alternatives. It isn’t a barren landscape when you cut down on salt. Many items are unsalted or low-salt. Chips, butter, canned broth, and canned soup are all offered in low or no-salt versions.
- Snack on veggies. Veggies make great snacking substitutes, for example carrots and hummus in place of chips or pretzels.
Drink plenty of fresh water. Water helps the body in many ways, and may help to eliminate excess sodium. Can’t stand plain water? Try adding a slice of lemon.
- Be cautious of “softened” water. Water softeners sometimes add a substantial amount of sodium.
Beware of high-sodium medications. Many medications contain sodium. While no prescription med should be discontinued without consulting a physician, you may want to ask your doctor if any sodium-free or low sodium alternative medications are available.
Don’t start. If you know you can’t eat just one potato chip or other salty food, don’t eat even the first one. Better yet, don’t buy the bag of chips in the first place. You make more of your eating decisions in the grocery store than you suppose, so choose something healthier.
- If you do have a few of something salty and need to stop, eat a bit of something else with a neutral flavor. Drink some water or have a bite of veggies or plain crackers or bread.
Do something else with your salt. There are many other wonderful things you can still use salt for and treat your body at the same time.
- Bath salts, body scrubs, cleaners and magic tricks are just some of the ways that you can make good use of salt around the house.
Share your low sodium lifestyle. Encourage others in your life to eat less salt. Stop leaving the salt shaker on the table. Serve unsalted snacks, nuts and chips for parties. Tell people why you’re following a low sodium diet, especially emphasizing the health benefits of doing so.
- Don’t hesitate to share low-salt recipes and snacks to help people realize that it’s not a difficult or tasteless lifestyle!