How to Lower Your Sodium Intake

By

Beth W. Orenstein

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Too much salt in your diet can cause you to retain water. That extra fluid can be hard on your heart and blood vessels. It can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. High amounts of salt also raise your risk of kidney stones and bone loss.  

Your body does need some salt, also called sodium. But you really need only about 200 milligrams (mg) a day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). A teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium. That’s more than 10 times the amount you need in a day. Most Americans consume 3,000 to 3,600 mg of salt every day. The AHA suggests that most people should cut their daily salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg. 

Here’s how you can reduce salt in your diet:

In the Kitchen

  • Cut the amount of salt in half when cooking from a recipe. Better yet, leave it out altogether. Instead, use herbs and spices. Seasonings that do not have sodium are the best choices. For example, garlic powder or minced garlic is better than garlic salt. Some spice blends come in a salt-free version. 

  • Don’t add salt to water when cooking rice or pasta or preparing hot cereal.  

  • Buy fresh vegetables. Plain frozen vegetables are good too. If you buy canned, look for those labeled “no salt added.” On the other hand, fresh fruit and canned fruits have very little sodium. One note: Watch out for pickles. They are usually high in salt.  

  • Rinse tuna, beans, shellfish and other canned foods with cold water before using. 

  • Skip or use sparingly: soy sauce (both regular and light), teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and taco sauce.  

At Your Appointment

High Blood Pressure Appointment Guide

When Grocery Shopping

  • Learn to read labels. Foods that are low in sodium will have less than 140 mg per serving, or less than 5% of the daily value. Salt also can be hidden in other ingredients: monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate and any other compound that has “sodium” or the chemical symbol “Na” in its name.  

  • Avoid canned soups or broths. Avoid flavored rice and pastas. These are typically higher in salt. Try low-sodium versions instead.  

  • Look for cheese and other foods that are labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “no salt added.” Other options: “unsalted” or “sodium free.”  

  • Avoid salty snacks like potato chips, peanuts and pretzels. If you want chips, nuts and pretzels, choose the unsalted versions.  

  • Avoid or limit these foods in your diet because they’re very high in salt: bacon, bologna, frozen breaded meats, deli meats, hot dogs, sardines, and smoked fish.  

At the Table 

  • Keep the salt shaker off the kitchen table. If you are used to salting your food, gradually reduce the amount of salt you add to your meals. Within 6 to 8 weeks, you may find you don’t even miss the salt.  

  • Sprinkle vinegar or lemon juice on your vegetables in place of salt.
      
  • Watch your portions. If you want something salty as a treat now and then, it’s OK. Just eat a little bit. And leave other salty items off your plate.
      
  • When dining out, ask your server to please tell the chef you’re watching your sodium and not to add any salt to your order.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 31, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Tips for Reducing Sodium in Your Diet. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/sodium/tips.htm
  2. Tips on How to Prepare Lower Salt Meals. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/sodium/tip_meal.htm
  3. Tips on Being a Smart Shopper. NHLBI. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/sodium/tip_shop.htm
  4. Top 10 tips for reducing salt in your diet. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/news/ekidney/june10/Salt_june10.cfm
  5. Answers by Heart. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300625.pdf
  6. Guidelines for a low sodium diet, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics (UWHealth.org). http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/health-topics/healthy-lifestyle/documents/Sodium.pdf

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