Reader Request: Eating Well With Less Salt

less sodium

and NO, it won’t a-salt your taste buds

Even though heart health month is over, it’s still important to keep our hearts in check. This new reader request came in from someone asking for tips on ways to reduce sodium intake – so here you go!

We have learned about what too much sodium does to our bodies, so now it’s time to figure out what to do about it. We are going to collectively try to limit our sodium intake to 2,300 mg/day, or 1,500 mg/day if high blood pressure is involved.

So other than hiding the salt shaker, what else can you do to aim for that sodium recommendation? I’ve written up a little Q&A with some common questions I hear as an RDN. Read along and start creating your own goals to reduce your intake.

“I get overwhelmed at the grocery store. How do I easily shop for low sodium foods without spending hours there, reading labels?”

heart health checkUse this trick: shop the perimeter of the store. Fresh foods in their original form are naturally low in sodium – just what we want. Spend your time in the produce section, finding new fruits/veggies to try. Fresh meats, poultry, and fish as well as dried beans, rice, milk, and yogurt. Spending less time in the processed foods section will definitely help keep the sodium content of your grocery shopping lower.

When purchasing canned goods, always look for the organic, reduced sodium options. Always compare labels of any kind of processed foods to find the lowest amount. If you find a food with the AHA Heart-Check Mark, you know you have found a food that passes the nutritional requirements for their heart healthy foods program.

“I love everything on the Salty Six list. Do I have to give them up forever?”

No! Avoiding the “Salty Six” will help you avoid the major sodium sources, but there are other ways you can incorporate them into your daily life by making some changes:

  1. Cold Cuts & Cured Meats – choose the Low Sodium (LS) varieties of deli meat. Ask to sample the deli meat before buying a whole pound, just to make sure you like the taste
  2. Pizza – cheese is the main source of sodium here. Ask for light cheese on your pizza and load on those veggies! Also, try to limit those cured meats as mentioned above
  3. Soup – always opt for the low-sodium options when buying soup. I think you would be surprised how many low sodium options there are!
  4. Bread – As we talked about in the sodium post, sodium content can change between brands. Check the labels for your *Whole Wheat* bread and opt for the one with the lower amount.
  5. Chicken – Buying certified organic is best as sodium is used as a preservative – check for the words “broth” or “saline” in the ingredient list. Also, preparation is key. Plain chicken breast is naturally low in sodium, but seasoning or breading/frying your chicken will definitely increase the amount.
  6. Burritos and Tacos – packaged taco seasoning has a huge amount of sodium in it – so make your own! Play around with spices to make a fun, salt-free option. Check our Pinterest page for some fun recipes

“I’m the Condiment Queen. Are they high in sodium?”

The answer to this question is always going to be – Check the label. A lot of condiments are super high in sodium to increase the flavor and to increase the shelf life. Always opt for the low sodium version of salad dressings, ketchup, soy sauce (yes, they make a reduced sodium soy sauce!), salsa, mustard, pickles, you name it.

“I have a heavy hand on my salt shaker. What can I substitute it with?”

Start getting acquainted with herbs – they are a fun, natural way to pack on the flavor. You can even start growing your own! Spices, garlic, vinegar and fresh, natural lime/lemon juice are just a few of the ways you can enhance the flavor of your foods if needed.

Salt substitutes are another option. Most of the time, the sodium is replaced with potassium, so unless you have been told to steer clear of added potassium (think: kidney issues), then go ahead and try it. There are a large variety of salt substitutes out there.

“What are some other ways I can decrease my sodium intake?”

The American Heart Association is actively working with the restaurant industry to decrease the amount of sodium in their foods. While they are doing their part, you can do yours. If you are out to eat, here are a few tips to make sure the salt content remains low:

  • Just ask! Ask the waiter to make sure they don’t add salt when cooking
  • Use fresh garnishes instead of reaching for the shaker. Ask for extra lemon with your water to squeeze onto your food
  • Read the menu. Check for those sodium packed words like brined, cured, barbecued, smoked, soy sauce, miso, teriyaki.
  • Portion Control – Ask for a to-go container when the food comes and immediately put half of your entree away. Smaller portions = smaller amount of sodium at one time.
  • Do your homework. Check the restaurant’s website for their nutritional information sodium will be listed and you can compare different menu items before you even get there!

Cooking food at home will definitely help you control your sodium intake better than when someone else is cooking it. Using those fresh, natural ways to increase flavor that we talked about will help, a lot! Grilling, roasting and sauteing are all healthy ways to cook food without adding sodium. Always try to rinse and drain any canned item you are using.

“Is my food going to be bland forever?”

I think you will be surprised by what happens when you start to limit your sodium intake. Your taste buds will catch up, but give it some time. Realizing the true flavor that food has is only one of the benefits of decreasing your sodium intake. According to the AHA:

Over time, your taste buds can adjust to prefer less salt. Studies have shown that when people are given a lower sodium diet for a period of time, they begin to prefer lower-sodium foods and the foods they used to enjoy taste too salty.

So there you have it. Now you have some tools to try to reduce your sodium intake. You are backed by me, as well as the American Heart Association. Reducing the amount of sodium in your daily diet has so many benefits, you would be crazy not to try it! What kind of goals are you going to make today?