Tips for Cutting Sodium From Your Diet

Woman shopping in grocery store
Dan Dalton / Getty Images

Question: I've been told to cut back on both salt and sodium for health reasons. It's easy enough to stop adding salt to my food, but where does all the sodium come from? Can you help me? What can I use instead of regular salt?

Answer: Consuming too much sodium may contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and it may lead to fluid retention and bloating. Decreasing the amount of sodium in your diet may help to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

One teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams sodium. Just one-quarter teaspoon has 580 milligrams, and a dash of salt has around 150 milligrams.

While salt is a primary source of sodium, many processed foods are high in sodium, too. Canned foods, frozen meals, cured meats, and many other processed foods contain outrageous amounts of sodium.

So to keep your intake down, you need to do more than simply put away your salt shaker. Locate the Nutrition Facts labels to determine how much sodium is in the foods you buy. Avoid products that have more than 140 milligrams sodium per serving. You can also rinse your canned vegetables to remove some of the sodium.

How Much Is Too Much?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, these groups of people should be limiting their sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day:

  • African Americans
  • Diabetics
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with kidney disease
  • Everyone over the age of fifty

The rest of us should stay under 2,300 milligrams per day, which is not easy if you eat any processed foods at all, even some that are otherwise good for you. You'll find sodium in most butter or margarine, milk, bread and other staple foods. Look at the Nutrition Facts label for the amount of sodium per serving.

Look for these ingredients on the labels of all the processed and packaged foods that you buy:

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Sodium alginate
  • Sodium nitrate or nitrite

Your body needs some sodium so you don't want to eliminate all sodium from your diet (that would be almost impossible, anyway), but here are some ways to cut back:

  • Read food labels and choose foods that are low in sodium.
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned.
  • Avoid lunch meats and cured meats.
  • Stay away from frozen convenience foods like frozen dinners, pizzas, and snack foods.
  • Buy unsalted nuts and snacks.
  • Eliminate salt from your recipes.
  • Try salt substitutes made with potassium.

Can You Rinse the Sodium Away?

Rinsing canned vegetables and legumes with water can remove some of the sodium. It's difficult to know exactly how much, if you rinse your canned goods for a minute or so, you'll e able to reduce the sodium by 10 to 30 percent.

Keep in mind that studies and sources seem to differ a bit in how much sodium can be washed away, so if you need to track your sodium grams every day, you're probably better off buying low-sodium canned goods.

Read the Nutrition Facts labels on the backs of the cans because they will tell you how much sodium is in each serving (also look for the number of servings per package).

Sources:

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013. Accessed March 8, 2016.

Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD. "Effect of Draining and Rinsing on the Sodium and Water Soluble Vitamin Content of Canned Vegetables." Accessed March 8, 2016. http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Articles/EB11_DrainedVeg.pdf.

United States Department of Agriculture and United Stated Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020." Accessed April 11, 2016. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.

Vermeulen RT, Sedor FA, Kimm SY. "Effect of water rinsing on sodium content of selected foods." J Am Diet Assoc. 1983 Apr;82(4):394-6. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6833685.

Continue Reading