How to Follow a Low Sodium Diet

Three Methods:Making Lifestyle ChangesChecking Labels and Knowing the FactsKnowing the Ins and Outs of Sodium

The U.S. Government recommends that adults only consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium (1 teaspoon) per day, though other organizations, such as the American Heart Association, have recommended lowering that amount to 1,500 milligrams (2/3 teaspoon) per day.[1] If you find yourself going over that limit, you may be trying to lower your salt intake. The definition of a low-sodium diet changes depending on what organization you ask, but generally, it's somewhere between 1,500 milligrams and 3,000 milligrams per day.[2]You'll find that you have many low-sodium alternatives available to you if you want or need to follow a low-sodium diet, though you may also be surprised how many foods have sodium in them.

Method 1
Making Lifestyle Changes

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    Take your time. You may be tempted to ditch all the high-sodium foods at once, but it will take a little while for your taste buds to adjust. Make your changes gradually.[3]
    • For instance, you can try making a recipe you like, but add half the salt than you normally do.[4] If you try to go cold-turkey, you may be tempted to go off the low-sodium diet all together.
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    Cook for yourself. Fast food meals are usually high in sodium, as are quick meals at home, such as dry pasta mixes. Fast food restaurants are not the only culprits. Most high-end restaurants utilize a lot of salt to enhance flavor in their food. It is almost always thrown into every component of the dish; even sweet items! Make meals from scratch, and you'll be in control of how much sodium goes into the meal.[5]
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    Buy fresh foods. Instead of boxed meals, buy uncooked meats (fresh or frozen) and fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits. Canned vegetables often contain added salt, unless you specifically buy ones without.[6] However, canned fruits are fine, as they usually don't have added salt.[7]
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    Skip prepacked cured meats or ones with added salt. That is, skip lunch meats, sausages, pepperoni, and beef jerky, as they all have extra salt.[8]
    • If you love sandwiches, try roasting a chicken or beef roast for the week, then carving off pieces to use in sandwiches.[9]
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    Avoid brined foods. Foods like olives and pickles are preserved in a brine, which is a mixture of salt and water. If you're on a low-sodium diet, you should avoid these foods.[10]
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    Skip the salad dressings and condiments. Most prepackaged salad dressings and condiments contain high amounts of salt, so unless they are specified "low-sodium," you should avoid them.[11]
    • Some condiments do offer low-sodium alternatives, so be sure to check around on the condiment aisle.
    • Consider making your own salad dressing to avoid sodium in pre-packaged varieties. A simple blend of oil and acid (ex: lemon juice) can make a tasty dressing. Salt is truly not needed.
    • Try making a simple vinaigrette at home. Mix together a splash of olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar. You can keep it that simple, or you can add in a few herbs, such as an Italian seasoning mix. For a fruity flavor, add in a spoonful of your favorite jam or preserves and mix well.
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    Make trades. For instance, try pork loin instead of ham. Pork loin is not cured like ham, yet it can be very flavorful with the right spices, such as sage or rosemary.[12]
    • Try interesting alternatives. For instance, instead of breadcrumbs, try topping dishes with ground broccoli. Instead of frying eggs in bread and salted butter, try using unsalted butter and rings of onion or bell pepper.[13]
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    Switch spices and other flavors for salt. Try out new (no-salt) seasoning mixes, such as a curry mix or a steak rub. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar for flavor instead of salt. Skip the salt at the dinner table, and instead, use pepper. You can add flavor to dishes in a variety of ways without adding extra salt.[14]
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    Try marinating meat and vegetables. Use flavors such as lemon, garlic, and onion, along with a little olive oil, to marinate your meat and vegetables before cooking. Marinating them first will create more flavor, keeping you from missing the salt.[15]
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    Remove salt shakers from the table. If you can't grab the salt, you won't add more salt to your food at the table. Sometimes adding salt can be a mindless action, so just removing it from the table will make it easier for you to remember.[16]
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    Keep high-sodium foods out of the house. Once you've learned what is high in sodium and what is not, stop stocking the high-sodium foods. That way, you won't be tempted to eat them. One surprising food that is high in sodium is cottage cheese. If you must keep high-sodium foods stocked for another family member, try keeping them in a separate cupboard or on a separate shelf.[17]

Method 2
Checking Labels and Knowing the Facts

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    Look for the label "low sodium." This label means the food has 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.[18]
    • You can also look for "sodium-free" (less than 5 milligrams per serving) and "very low sodium" (less than 35 milligrams per serving). You can also look for "unsalted."[19]
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    Check the label yourself. Even if it's not labelled "low sodium," you may need to pick the best option out of several brands. Look for one that has only about 5 percent of your daily value of sodium per serving.[20] Remember that 'low sodium' may still be more than your particular daily allotment allows for. Keep in mind that these are based on very general guidelines and yours may be more specific.
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    Pay attention to serving size. If a can of soup labelled "low sodium" has two servings in it, then you're really getting double the amount of sodium on the label if you eat both servings at once.
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    Check the menu. Many restaurants offer menus with nutritional values these days. Sometimes, you may need to find the menu online before going to the restaurant, or you may need to ask your server for a menu nutritional facts. Alternatively, ask your server for low-sodium options, or ask if certain items can be served with less salt.[21]
    • Remember, you can even use this trick at fast food places. Many fast food places will make french fries without salt if you ask for them.
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    Keep a list of high-sodium and low-sodium foods. Stick the list to your refrigerator so you'll see it often. That way, you always know what's best to eat when you go in search of a snack.[22]
    • The high-sodium list could include items such as pickles, olives, cured meats, tomato juice, dressings, chips, pretzels, soups, bouillon, and condiments. The low-sodium list could include foods such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fresh or frozen meat, beans, yogurt, and cereal.[23]
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    Think about hidden salt. Even small amounts of salt can add up, and you may not think about salt in foods such as milk and bread, both of which can have 130 milligrams or more of salt per serving. Though that falls under "low sodium," you may miscalculate your daily intake if you don't pay attention to all the foods you're eating.[24] Remember that even sweet items may have salt added. Salt enhances sweetness, therefore it is added to many desserts and other sweet items.

Method 3
Knowing the Ins and Outs of Sodium

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    Understand why sodium is important. You need a certain amount of sodium in your diet. Sodium plays an important role in helping you body run. It helps your muscles work, and it assists in sending nerve impulses throughout your body. It also helps keep your body's fluids in correct proportions.[25]
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    Know what happens to sodium. Sodium is processed through your kidneys. That is, your kidneys are responsible for making sure you have the right amount of sodium running through your blood. If they sense you are running low, they will store some up to help keep your body running properly. If you're getting too much, usually your kidneys will flush out the extra in your urine. Sometimes, however, your kidneys can't get rid of enough sodium.[26] You also lose sodium in sweat.[27]
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    Understand what happens when you have extra sodium in your body. Doctors do not agree exactly how it works, but too much sodium in your body can increase your blood pressure. Most think that it increases the volume of the blood in your body, which in turn signals the body to up your blood pressure.[28]
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    Know which diseases make it difficult to balance sodium in your body. Congestive heart failure and kidney diseases, for instance, can make it harder for your body to balance the sodium. Therefore, your doctor might put you on a low-sodium diet if you have one of these diseases.[29]


  • It may help to 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.
  • Remember to drink plenty of water regardless of sodium consumption, but especially with foods high in sodium.
  • If you only have prepacked food around, try subbing out the seasoning packet. For instance, if you have instant Ramen noodles, leave out the packet and instead add fresh vegetables and a pat of unsalted butter. You could also try cooking it in low-sodium chicken broth. Though the noodles still have some salt, they don't have as much as the seasoning packet.

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