Is it time you started slashing sodium from your diet? As the world’s most prolific (and certainly the cheapest) food preservative, sodium is added to many of the foods we eat. While not all people are sodium sensitive, it makes sense to analyze your diet and see where you might be able to shrink your sodium intake.
Become a Sodium Sleuth
Table salt is sodium chloride and is made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. If you’re looking to curb your sodium intake, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the general population limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. And if you have prehypertension or hypertension (high blood pressure), you should limit your intake to less than 1,500 mg per day to see even greater blood pressure reduction.
Unfortunately, the average sodium intake for Americans age 2 and older is more than 3,400 mg per day. That means almost everyone eats more than TWICE the recommended amount of sodium each day. Excessive sodium intake is linked to increased risk for stroke and heart attack in certain populations. But the real problem with sodium is that it is found in high quantities in foods we shouldn’t be eating that much of to begin with: processed, packaged and fast foods. If you can stick to whole, intact foods and ingredients such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy, you’ll automatically start paring down your sodium intake.
Get to Know the Lingo
Sodium is lurking everywhere in our diet, but nutrition facts labels can guide conscious consumers in the right direction to avoiding excessive salt. Become an expert sodium sleuth by perusing labels on the packaged and processed foods you buy.
Food manufacturers must follow strict guidelines when making claims about sodium on their packages and products. Familiarize yourself with these definitions to make the smartest sodium swaps:
- Sodium free: Less than 5 mg per serving
- Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
- Reduced sodium: 25 percent less sodium than appropriate reference group
- Light in sodium: 50 percent less sodium than appropriate reference group
- No Salt Added: Unsalted but must also declare “This is not a sodium-free food”
- Lightly salted: 50 percent less sodium than normally added to appropriate reference food
Sodium claims may sound similar, but keep in mind there are distinct differences. When you see reduced-sodium soy sauce, for example, remind yourself that this is not a low-salt food. In fact, reduced-sodium soy sauce just has 25 percent less sodium than regular soy sauce. While reduced sodium soy sauce may be a better choice, it is still a very high-salt food choice.
Cutting Sodium Across All Food Groups
Sodium is pretty easy to identify in typically high-salt foods such as frozen dinners, canned goods and packaged snack foods. But many other food groups may also be hiding salt. For example, meat in its pure animal flesh form has a limited amount of naturally occurring salt. However, butchers and meat processors often inject meat and poultry with a saline solution to increase bulk, tenderness and flavor. Other meat products have salty marinades or sauces added to them, sending your sodium intake skyrocketing. When you select meats, look for those that contain only meat and make your own no- or low-salt sauces and marinades at home.
Here are a few tips for finding and reducing sodium intake across a variety of food groups:
Choose low- or reduced-sodium or no-salt added versions of foods and condiments when available.
Choose fresh, frozen or canned (low-sodium or no-salt-added) vegetables.
Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked or processed types.
Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
Limit cured foods (like bacon and ham), foods packed in brine (such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut) and condiments (such as mustard, horseradish, ketchup and BBQ sauce). Limit even lower-sodium versions of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce as these are often high in sodium.
Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt. Limit instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
Choose convenience foods that are lower in sodium. Reduce frozen dinners, mixed dishes like pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths and salad dressings.
Rinse canned foods, such as tuna and canned beans, to remove approximately one-third of the sodium content.
Use spices instead of salt; flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar or salt-free seasoning blends.
Make Your Own Salt Substitute
If you can avoid eating prepared foods made outside of the home and stay away from the saltshaker in your home, you’ll find yourself in pretty good sodium shape. Try seasoning your foods with fresh herbs and spices or juices like lemon and lime. You can buy commercially prepared salt-free seasoning mixes, or try making your own.
Give this simple recipe for Spicy Homemade Salt-Free Herb Seasoning a try. Mix up a batch and keep extra on hand for sodium-free home meal prep.
Spicy Homemade Salt-Free Herb Seasoning
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. dried basil
- 2 tsp. ground savory
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 2 tsp. dried sage
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- 2 tsp. ground mace
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. dried parsley
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram
- 2 tsp. ground black pepper
- Crush or grind all ingredients together.
- Let stand at least overnight before using.
- Store mixture in an airtight container.