LittlePeopleLogo     Low-Sodium Diet

Low-sodium diets are often prescribed to help control high blood pressure. The most common source of sodium in the diet is table salt added to foods.

Dietary Recommendations

You can reduce the amount of sodium in your diet by following these guidelines:

• Read labels carefully. Look for any form of sodium or salt, such as sodium benzoate or sodium citrate.

• Add very little or no salt to food that you prepare.

• Do not add salt to food at the table.

• Fast foods are very high in salt, as are many other restaurant foods. When you eat at a restaurant, try steamed fish and vegetables or fresh salads. Avoid soups.

Avoid eating the following foods:

• ketchup, prepared mustard, pickles, and olives

• soy sauce, steak or barbecue sauce, chili sauce, or Worcestershire sauce

• bouillon cubes

• commercially prepared or cured meats or fish (for example, bacon, luncheon meats, and canned sardines)

• canned vegetables, soups, and other packaged convenience foods

• salty cheeses and buttermilk

• salted nuts and peanut butter

• self-rising flour and biscuit mixes

• salted crackers, chips, popcorn, and pretzels

• commercial salad dressings

• instant cooked cereals.

Many of these foods are now available in unsalted or low-sodium versions. Read all labels carefully.

If your diet must be restricted to much lower amounts of sodium, talk to your doctor and a registered dietitian for help in planning your meals. It is important to keep your meals nutritionally balanced and tasty. It can be hard to follow a restricted-salt diet if the food doesn't taste good.

Substitutions and Hints

• Cook with imagination and make food attractive.

• Season foods with herbs and spices. Use onions, garlic, parsley, lemon and lime juice and rind, dill weed, basil, tarragon, marjoram, thyme, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, paprika, vinegar, and wine to enhance the flavor and aroma of foods. Mushrooms, celery, red pepper, yellow pepper, green pepper, and home-dried fruits also enhance specific dishes.

• Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats as much as possible. Plain frozen fruits and vegetables usually do not have added salt.

• Add a pinch of sugar or a squeeze of lemon juice to bring out the flavor in fresh vegetables.

• If you must use canned products, use the low-sodium types (except for fruit). Rinse canned vegetables with tap water before cooking.

• Substitute unsalted, polyunsaturated margarine for regular margarine or butter.

• Eat low-sodium cheeses. Many are available now, some with herbs and spices that are very tasty, and many are also low-fat.

• Drink low-sodium juices.

• Make unsalted or lightly salted soup stocks and keep them in the freezer to use as substitutes for canned broth and bouillon. Use these broths to enhance vegetables.

• Substitute wines and vinegars (especially the flavored vinegars) for salt to enhance flavors.

• Eat tuna and salmon packed in water instead of oil, and rinse first with running water.

• Use one or more of the following to season chicken: curry, turmeric, cumin, cilantro, tarragon, thyme, sage, onions, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, or orange, lemon, or lime juice with ginger.

• Use one or more of the following to season beef: dry mustard, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, red wine, mushrooms, onions, red or green pepper, parsley, curry, green chilies, or orange rind.

• Use one or more of the following to season seafood: lemon, parsley, paprika, wine, garlic and onions, cilantro, ginger, bay leaf, fennel, dill, marjoram, or thyme.

• Use one or more of the following to season pasta: basil, oregano, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, green pepper, red pepper, yellow pepper, low-salt salad dressings, pine nuts, or low-salt mozzarella cheese.

• Cook rice in homemade broth with mushrooms and scallions or shallots.

• Use herbs and spices carefully at first. Whenever possible, use fresh or dried herbs.

Help Yourself Become Healthier

• Try some of the many frozen prepared meals that meet the American Heart Association guidelines for sodium and fat content.

• Read food labels for sodium and fat content.

• Read nutrition information available at your local library, from the American Heart Association, and through nutrition programs and health fairs.

• Contact a dietitian for information.

• Look for some of the excellent low-sodium cookbooks available in most bookstores.

• Take time to plan your meals. You will be pleasantly surprised at how fast you learn new food preparations, how lowering your sodium intake lowers your blood pressure, and how good food can be.