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As a Registered Dietitian, people with high blood pressure, kidney problems, and heart disease come to my office to help manage their conditions. In these cases, a low-sodium diet is often prescribed.
To help you stay within these recommended sodium ranges, I’ve developed a list of best practices to structure your lifestyle and diet.
Here are the topics I’ll discuss:
- What is a low-sodium diet?
- How can you tell how much sodium you are eating?
- Reasons to lower your sodium intake
- Tips for decreasing your sodium intake
- High-sodium foods and how to replace them
What Is A Low Sodium Diet?
According to the American Hearts Association, people consume around 3,400 mg of sodium per day, exceeding the recommended target of only consuming 2,300mg daily.
While 2300mg daily is the standard benchmark prescribed, on certain occasions with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart problems, 1,500 mg of sodium per day is recommended.
Sodium is naturally found in most foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, and healthy fats.
However, most sodium nowadays comes from processed foods like chips, pastries, cakes, and frozen food.
Table salt is also one of the significant contributors to the addition of sodium to people’s diets.
3 Reasons To Lower Your Sodium Intake
1. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure happens when your blood pressure is higher than normal. Your blood pressure is given by the systolic pressure (how hard your heart pumps blood to your body) and the diastolic pressure (the blood flow’s pressure on the veins).
Normal blood pressure is 90/60 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg. On the other hand, high blood pressure is above 140/90 mmHg.
Studies have shown high sodium consumption (over 2,300 mg) can increase blood pressure. This means that consuming a low-sodium diet is one of the strategies often used to decrease blood pressure.
In a study done on 415 participants, they were divided into three groups: those who took 3,450 mg of sodium (high intake), those that took 2,300 mg of sodium (intermediate), and those that took 1,150 mg of sodium (low).
The results showed that people in the intermediate group decreased their blood pressure by 2.1 mmHg, while those on the low intake saw a reduction of 4.6 mmHg.
Thus, consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily can significantly help decrease your blood pressure until you reach a normal range.
2. Kidney Disease
The kidneys are in charge of processing and modifying the sodium content in the body. When your kidneys are damaged, they cannot eliminate the sodium properly. It can also affect the fluid levels in your body.
If there is a lot of sodium and water in your body, more damage can be done to your kidneys.
3. Heart Disease
Finally, you need a low-sodium diet if you’re at risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a term used to group several types of heart conditions. The most common types are coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmias, heart disease, and valve disease.
Overconsumption of sodium increases your fluid retention, increasing your blood pressure. This can make your heart work harder to pump blood, leading to an overworking heart. It can then lead to heart disease or stroke.
A meta-analysis of six experiments related to sodium consumption was gathered to find a link between a low-sodium diet and a decreased risk for heart disease.
It showed that those with a restriction of around 1,500 mg of salt daily reduced their systolic blood pressure by 8.9 mmHg. It also showed that for each 1,000 mg of salt reduction, there was a reduction of 0.94 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure.
Hence, if you want to decrease heart disease symptoms, reducing your blood pressure is mandatory. Look to consume no more than one teaspoon of sodium per day; it is even better if you can consume only half a teaspoon.
General Guidelines For Decreasing Salt Intake
If you are looking to reduce your sodium consumption. You can include several tips whether you are at the grocery store, at home, or going out to eat. Here are the most frequent tips I give my clients.
At The Grocery Store
- Buy fresh or frozen. Buying fresh or frozen foods without additives ensures that you have a low sodium consumption.
- Read the nutrition label. To have a food classified as low sodium, it needs to have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving (100 g).
- Understand the food label lingo. There are several labels like low in sodium, reduced in sodium, or lite. Here is an explanation of each one.
- Sodium-free or salt-free. Contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
- Very low sodium.Contains less than 35 mg of sodium per serving.
- Low sodium. Contains less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
- Reduced or less sodium. Contains less than 25% sodium compared to the original version.
- Lite or light in sodium. Contains less than 50% sodium compared to the original version.
- Unsalted or no salt added. During the manufacturing process, there was no salt added.
- Very low sodium.Contains less than 35 mg of sodium per serving.
- Choose the right prepared meal. If you are buying a frozen meal, ensure it has less than 500 mg of sodium for the entire meal.
- Buy fresh, over-processed meats. When buying meats, choose fresh meats like chicken, fish, seafood, or meat over processed meats like sausage, chorizo, or ham.
- Avoid canned foods. Canned foods (or instant soups) are very high in sodium. Depending on the brand, it can have more than twice the recommended sodium intake depending on the brand. Avoid canned foods unless they are low in sodium.
- Use herbs and spices. Add natural herbs and spices to boost the flavor of your dishes without relying on salt. Ensure they don’t contain added salt or sodium in the mix.
- Leave the salt shaker out of your table. If the salt is not on your table, you are less likely to put some on your food.
- Prepare your food instead of buying packaged sauces or meals. Make them at home. You can then make them fresh and control the amount of salt it has.
- Rinse your canned foods. If you can only buy canned chickpeas, for example, rinse them first to remove the excess sodium they can have.
At A Restaurant
- Check the menu. Go online and check the menu for the restaurant that you are going to. In most cases, the restaurants offer detailed information about the dish, including sodium content.
- Ask to remove the salt instead of having the salt shaker at your table. Ask the waiter if they can remove it to prevent adding more sodium.
- Ask to skip the salt. Ask the waiter to avoid adding salt to your veggies or other preparations. That way, you can put the amount of salt that you want.
- Go to fast food on occasion. Fast food restaurants are very high in sodium. Try to go only a maximum of one time per week if you want to decrease your sodium intake. If you decide to go, make sure to compensate for the rest of the day to have your meals with fresh ingredients.
High Sodium Protein Sources & Alternatives
- Beef jerky. Not all beef jerky is high in sodium. There are great alternatives on the market, like Mango Habanero Beef Jerky by Country Archer, with only 120 mg of sodium per serving.
- Sausages. Choose sausages that are as natural as possible. Read the nutrition label and look for those with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving. Uncured options mean they were not salted, making them a good choice. Pederson’s Farms, Uncured Kielbasa Rope Sausage is a good option, but it still has 300 mg of sodium per serving, meaning you must be careful with the consumption.
- Deli meat. Instead of deli meat, choose sliced cooked or chicken turkey breast. It’s more natural and lower in sodium. If you will have deli meat, avoid curated (like prosciutto) and go with the low-sodium version.
- Canned tuna. Choose the low sodium canned tuna, and make sure that it is in water and not in oil.
High Sodium Condiments & Alternatives
- Garlic salt. Instead of garlic salt (or any other salt with flavor), switch it up for the natural version. For example, add garlic powder instead.
- Soy sauce. Opt for the low-sodium soy sauce to prevent adding too much sodium. It can help you cut down your sodium intake by 40%. If you still want to decrease it any further, you can choose to add coconut aminos or try a low-sodium Worcestershire sauce as an alternative.
- BBQ sauce. Try making BQQ sauce at home. That way, you can control the amount of sodium you will have. If you don’t want to make it at home, search for a low-sodium BBQ, like Mr. Spice Organic Honey BBQ Sauce.
- Pickles. Look for the ones that are low or reduced in sodium to ensure you will not increase your sodium intake. For example, Whole Foods has a great option of Organic Dill Pickles Reduced Sodium.
- Salad dressings. Instead of buying salad dressing at the grocery store. Mixing olive oil with the vinegar of your choice can create the perfect vinaigrette that won’t contain almost any sodium. If you buy it at the grocery store, choose a salad dressing that is low in sodium.
- Tomato sauce. Canned tomatoes or tomato sauce are often very high in sodium. Look for those low in sodium, or make it at home and bottle it up in an individual container to preserve them for longer.
- Pesto. Depending on the brand, pesto can be food very high in sodium. To avoid adding more sodium to your diet, try making it at home or choose a low-sodium pesto sauce.
High Sodium Dairy Sources & Alternatives
- Cheese. Not all the cheeses are going to be high in sodium. Read the nutrition label to check those that are low in sodium. Generally, ricotta, goat cheese, or mozzarella are low in sodium.
- Sour cream. Instead of sour cream, you can replace it with Greek yogurt. Not only will it be lower in sodium, but it will also be higher in protein.
High Sodium Breads, Grains, & Cereals & Alternatives
- Bread. Look for brands that offer bread that is “low in sodium.” For example, Organic Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Bread Low Sodium is an excellent option with 0 mg of sodium.
- Flour tortillas. Corn tortillas can have 20-30% less sodium than flour ones since they are less processed.
- Refried beans. Refried beans or canned beans can be very high in sodium. Make them at home to avoid having a huge sodium intake.
- Bagels. Bagels are very high in sodium, and the toppings you might put on top (cream cheese or salmon). Control the portion size to avoid having large ingestion of sodium. Choose a low-sodium brand, like ThinSlim Foods Keto Food Bagel.
High Sodium Vegetables & Fruits & Alternatives
- Canned corn. Look for canned corn that is reduced or low in sodium. If not, make sure to rinse the food before having it to remove some of the sodium.
- Canned mushrooms. Instead, opt for the fresh version since it will be very low in sodium.
- Canned fruit. While canned fruit can be high in sugar, it can also be very high in sodium. Replace it with a natural fruit salad instead.
High Prepared Foods & Alternatives
- Canned soups. Instead of a canned soup look, try making your own. This will decrease the consumption of salt per day.
- Frozen meals. Look for frozen meals that have less than 500 mg of sodium per serving. If not, try meal prepping at home and make your meals. Store them in the freezer for ready-to-eat meals.
- Asian take-out. Ask to place sauces on the side, choose to have low sodium soy sauce, and avoid veggies or meats that are breaded.
- Pizza. Be careful with the toppings. Salami or meats tend to be very high in sodium. Choose a pizza that is oven-baked and has veggies on top.
High Sodium Desserts & Alternatives
- Packaged cakes and pies. Make your desserts at home or search for that low or reduced sodium. It should have less than 250 mg per serving.
- Cookies. Make the cookies from scratch at home and place them in the freezer for a more natural approach.
High Sodium Snacks & Alternatives
- Instant pudding. Try making your pudding at home from scratch to avoid having a high sodium intake. If not, search for those that have less than 150 mg of sodium per serving, like P.S. Snacks Instant Pudding & Baking Mix.
- Pretzels. Sourdough varieties tend to be higher in sodium compared to other types. Choose those lower sodium brands, like Unique Snacks Unsalted Splits.
- Pork rinds. The flavored versions tend to be higher in sodium. Prefer the original version.
- Salted nuts. Choose nuts that are unsalted or that don’t have any flavor to avoid having a higher sodium intake.
- Chips. Instead make chips at home using different veggies. You can also make pita chips on an air fryer to avoid having too much sodium and fat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Use a Salt Substitute to Lower My Sodium Intake?
A salt substitute is a great alternative to decrease sodium consumption. However, this is not a solution for you if you have kidney problems since they are made with potassium. People with heart problems can tolerate an increased potassium intake. Those with kidney problems need to have a control potassium intake.
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