Do you love salty foods, but your doctor has told you to cut back on your salt (sodium) intake? Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up all the foods you love. By learning some tricks and making some smart changes, you can continue to enjoy what you eat.
First, do you know why you need to cut back on sodium? Consuming too much sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke. Experts recommend that people ages 51 and older, African Americans, or anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease reduce their salt intake to 1,500 milligrams per day (for everyone else, the amount is 2,300 milligrams per day).
You may be surprised to know that most of the excess salt in our diets doesn’t come from the salt we put on our food. In fact, 75% of the sodium we eat comes from eating packaged or processed foods and from dining out.
Here are some simple steps you can take to shake your salt habit:
- Swap out specific foods that are usually high in salt. When possible, replace soy sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, deli meats, canned soup, and snack foods (pretzels, chips, nuts, popcorn) with low-sodium or no-salt versions. If you can’t find low-sodium versions, eat these in small quantities.
- Know that salt can hide in unexpected places. Did you know that bread is often high in sodium? Other foods usually high in sodium include cheese, seasoning mixes, pizza, and chicken nuggets.
- Check the sodium on food labels. The Nutrition Facts label on food packaging lists the “Percent Daily Value” for sodium. Look for the abbreviation “%DV” to check the sodium content of foods. Foods listed as 5% or less for sodium are low in sodium. Anything above 20% for sodium is considered high. Choose foods with 5% or less for sodium per serving. Compare various brands of the same food item until you find the one that has the lowest sodium content.
- Cut back salt little by little. Liking salty foods can be unlearned. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt. After that, it's actually difficult to eat foods such as potato chips because they will taste way too salty.
- Cook more often at home. Cooking at home gives you more control over the foods you eat. Skip the salt shaker and season your food with pepper, herbs, and spices instead of salt. Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats and avoid cold cuts and other processed meats. When buying frozen vegetables, choose those that are labeled "fresh frozen" and do not contain added seasoning or sauces.
- Research your restaurants. Some restaurants put nutritional information about their foods online or will provide it if you ask. Before dining out, visit the restaurant's website and look at the sodium content of the various dishes. Or when you're at the restaurant, request that your dish be made without salt.
- Eat foods rich in potassium. Potassium can reduce the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The recommended intake of potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day. Potassium-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and yogurt.
For more information:
- Decode the Sodium Label Lingo, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Savor the Flavor with Less Sodium, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regimen.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, US Department of Agriculture:
Lowering Salt in Your Diet, Food and Drug Administration:
Reducing Sodium in a Salty World, American Heart Association:
Salt, Centers for Disease Control:
Sodium and Food Sources, Centers for Disease Control:
Sodium in Your Diet: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake, Food and Drug Administration:
Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States, Institute of Medicine:
Top Ten Tips to Reduce Salt in Your Diet, National Kidney Foundation: