What is Salt?
Table salt, which is actually a combination of about 40% sodium and 60% chloride, helps preserve food as well as provide flavor. Kosher, sea salt and Himalayan pink salt all contain sodium and therefore all should be limited in a low sodium diet.
The American Heart Association states that most people consume far too much added salt, more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day while the dietary guidelines recommend 2,300 mg or less. Packaged foods need to have 140 mg of sodium or less to be labeled as a low sodium food.
Why is Too Much Salt Bad?
Too much sodium can cause your blood vessels to become stiffer and in turn lead to high blood pressure and increase your heart disease risk. Your kidneys also have to work harder when you have a diet with too much salt as they have to remove the excess fluid in your body when you eat too much salt.
How to Reduce Sodium
One of the best ways to reduce the sodium in your diet is by cooking from scratch more often and modifying your favorite recipes. When you prepare meals at home, instead of going out to eat or purchasing quick fix foods, you have more control over the amount of salt added to your meal. When you go out to eat you can ask to have your meal prepared without added salt, choose fresher sides like salads with vinegar based dressing, or review the menu and nutrition data online in advance if it is a chain restaurant.
High Sodium Foods and Ingredients
Many sauces and ingredients aside from salt can add a significant amount of sodium to your diet. Read labels to compare foods for lower sodium options. Some of the highest sodium foods are:
- soy sauce
- canned soups and broths
- spaghetti sauce
- snacks like chips, pretzels and crackers
- cured meats like bacon, hot dogs, meat sticks, pepperoni, sandwich meats
- salad dressings and condiments like
- olives and pickles
- seasoning salts (celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt, seasoning mixes)
- packaged rice and pasta mixes
- cottage cheese and processed cheese like American
- bread and rolls*
*One slice of bread may contain 200 mg of sodium, which may not seem very high but often it is the number of slices of bread per day that adds up.
How to Cook with Less Sodium
- Start by using half of the recommended added salt or seasoning packet.
- Choose canned items like tomatoes or beans that state No Added Salt on the label.
- Drain and rinse canned beans or vegetables if a No Added Salt option is not available.
- Choose lower or reduced-sodium versions of broths, soups and condiments.
- Use fresh or dried herbs and spices for flavor.
- Taste your recipe as you prepare and add more spices as needed.
- Do not add salt to prepared foods at the table.
How to Add Flavor Without Salt
There are numerous ways to add flavor to your cooking without adding extra salt. Often times we associate flavor with salt so cutting back on salt may take a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust. Once they do you will be able to appreciate all of the other flavors you may have missed.
- fresh and dried herbs like thyme, dill or parsley are great for fish and chicken and poultry
- black pepper, rosemary and paprika are great seasonings for beef and steak
- basil, oregano and garlic are Italian cooking staples
- lemon juice or zest
- vinegars (apple cider, balsamic) and white wine all pack a flavor punch
- chili peppers or powder, crushed red pepper, cumin and curry are very flavorful seasonings to help you reduce your sodium intake
- dry or prepared mustard is a low sodium option as prepared mustard has a vinegar base
- fresh onions, scallions and leeks are great for savory dishes as is onion powder
Salt Substitutes and Seasoning Mixes
Avoid products labeled as “salt substitutes” as these are made with potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride found in table salt. While potassium is a beneficial nutrient when coming from natural sources like fruits and vegetables, concentrated sources of potassium from salt substitutes can be dangerous for people that have kidney disease, heart disease or high blood pressure. Do not use these without talking to your doctor first.
Read the ingredients on seasoning mixes to find salt-free options like lemon pepper, garlic and herbs or other herb combinations.