11 Ways to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet

Think you don’t eat that much sodium? Think again! The CDC estimates that over 90% of Americans over the age of 2 have too much sodium in their diets. A little bit of sodium (less than 500 mg each day) is necessary for some bodily functions, like maintaining the right balance of fluids in the body, but too much causes high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The recommended daily dose? 2300 mg daily, which is less than 1 teaspoon of salt. That number drops to 1500 if you’re over 50 , African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease. But the average American has 3400 mg of sodium daily.

So chances are, you need to reduce your sodium intake. And you can do it fairly easily with the following tips.

1. Understand what sodium is and how much you’re consuming.

First things first: sodium and salt are not the same thing. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral in foods like meats, nuts, grains and dairy. But salt, or sodium chloride, is made from sodium – table salt is about 40% sodium. Sodium is also found in many processed foods because it’s a cheap way to mask and enhance flavor, improve texture, and preserve food. Now that you know what it is, figure out how much you actually eat a day! You can use an app like Sodium Tracker, or just note the amounts you consume in the processed foods you eat and how much salt you add to your food.

2. Cook often.

This is often the first tip when it comes to improving your diet, but it’s especially important for reducing sodium: over 75% of our sodium intake comes from consuming processed foods. So skip the restaurants and frozen dinners and cook more, using whole ingredients. Rely on processed foods? Check out some you can make at home. The average American eats out 5 times a week. With a little effort, you can drop that number dramatically.

3. Eat out smartly.

Of course, sometimes you want to have a nice restaurant dinner or veg out with Chinese takeout. Make a few simple changes and you can have the best of both worlds. At a restaurant, always skip soups since they’re loaded with sodium. Ask your waiter what’s cooked with less salt, and see if the amount can be reduced even further. Getting takeout? Ask for the sauce on the side and add it yourself, even diluting it a little with water. Or try cooking just a little and adding it to your takeout, like steaming some spinach and having just half of your ziti with it.

4. Do it gradually.

Like sugar, the more salt you eat, the more your taste buds get used to it and the less salty you find high-sodium foods. So cutting back slowly will help prevent you from feeling deprived. Our taste buds aren’t sensitive enough to notice a 25% decrease in salt – so start by cutting that much from your diet each week. Cut a quarter of the salt from a favorite recipe or just get rid of the saltiest processed foods from your diet. You could also just cut the salt you can’t taste – like in your pasta water. It’ll take 6 – 8 weeks to get used to your new low-sodium diet, so be patient. Soon, you’ll be wondering how you ever ate anything so salty.

5. Learn what labels mean.

Since most of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, it’s important to understand the food labels. A product labeled low-fat or low-calorie might compensate by loading up on sodium for flavor. Watch out for ingredients that say sodium in them – like MSG (monosodium glutamate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). You should also beware of the label “no salt added,” since the original ingredients might be high in sodium. Finally, pay attention to the amounts! The FDA considers less than 140 mg a serving to be low-sodium. As a general rule, shoot for foods with less than 200 mg a serving, and avoid any if the milligrams of sodium are greater than the calories per serving. That’s way too much!

6. Know what convenience products to buy.

Cooking can mean using salt-loaded convenience products, but it doesn’t have to. Frozen fruits and vegetables are useful and often don’t have added sodium. You can find low or no-sodium versions of foods like chicken broth, then add salt to taste. Canned foods often have high sodium levels, but rinsing and draining reduces the sodium by 41%. Do this for canned beans and even tuna. You can also mix low-sodium and regular versions to help wean yourself.

7. Up your produce intake.

Eating potassium-rich food helps neutralize some of the damaging effects of excess sodium. Some potassium-rich foods include oranges, bananas, potatoes and tomatoes. For best results, cook these foods so they don’t need salt. Roasting, steaming and grilling will help offset the bitter tastes of some produce.

8. Rethink your condiments.

Condiments like salad dressing, ketchup and even soy sauce are loaded with sodium. There are several ways to reduce this amount. Always ask for condiments on the side when you eat out and dress your own food. Make your own condiments like salad dressing or steak sauce, and consider diluting soy sauce. You could also rethink the classics. Try using homemade salsa, vinegars, cheese or even avocado.

9. Salt on purpose.

When you do salt your food, do it with purpose. Always salt at the end of a dish – it lets you use less salt for more flavor. Taste your food in the kitchen and avoid placing the saltshaker on the table, since doing so often means we mindlessly salt our food. Alternatively, try using a salt grinder. It will let you see how much salt you’re really eating and let you salt on purpose.

10. Use other spices.

Salt is a great flavor enhancer, but it’s not the only one! Using fresh herbs and spices will improve the taste of your food without upping your sodium intake. Think about making it spicy instead of salty! You can also add acidic ingredients like citrus and vinegar, since these activate the same taste sensors as salt – helping you miss the salt less.

11. Sodium doesn’t equal salty.

What do you think is the biggest source of sodium in the American diet? The answer: bread. Lots of high-sodium foods don’t taste salty to us at all, like the Salty Six. Sure, you can tell that bacon and salami have high sodium levels. But what about croissants or cottage cheese or roast chicken? Remember, just because something doesn’t taste salty doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with sodium. So beware of what you eat.

Liked this? Check out 8 Healthy Cuisines to Try.

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Image Credit: Kaboompics via CC0

Think you don’t eat that much sodium? Think again! The CDC estimates that over 90% of Americans over the age of 2 have too much sodium in their diets. A little bit of sodium (less than 500 mg each day) is necessary for some bodily functions, like maintaining the right balance of fluids in the body, but too much causes high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The recommended daily dose? 2300 mg daily, which is less than 1 teaspoon of salt. That number drops to 1500 if you’re over 50 , African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease. But the average American has 3400 mg of sodium daily.

So chances are, you need to reduce your sodium intake. And you can do it fairly easily with the following tips.

1. Understand what sodium is and how much you’re consuming.

First things first: sodium and salt are not the same thing. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral in foods like meats, nuts, grains and dairy. But salt, or sodium chloride, is made from sodium – table salt is about 40% sodium. Sodium is also found in many processed foods because it’s a cheap way to mask and enhance flavor, improve texture, and preserve food. Now that you know what it is, figure out how much you actually eat a day! You can use an app like Sodium Tracker, or just note the amounts you consume in the processed foods you eat and how much salt you add to your food.

2. Cook often.

This is often the first tip when it comes to improving your diet, but it’s especially important for reducing sodium: over 75% of our sodium intake comes from consuming processed foods. So skip the restaurants and frozen dinners and cook more, using whole ingredients. Rely on processed foods? Check out some you can make at home. The average American eats out 5 times a week. With a little effort, you can drop that number dramatically.

3. Eat out smartly.

Of course, sometimes you want to have a nice restaurant dinner or veg out with Chinese takeout. Make a few simple changes and you can have the best of both worlds. At a restaurant, always skip soups since they’re loaded with sodium. Ask your waiter what’s cooked with less salt, and see if the amount can be reduced even further. Getting takeout? Ask for the sauce on the side and add it yourself, even diluting it a little with water. Or try cooking just a little and adding it to your takeout, like steaming some spinach and having just half of your ziti with it.

4. Do it gradually.

Like sugar, the more salt you eat, the more your taste buds get used to it and the less salty you find high-sodium foods. So cutting back slowly will help prevent you from feeling deprived. Our taste buds aren’t sensitive enough to notice a 25% decrease in salt – so start by cutting that much from your diet each week. Cut a quarter of the salt from a favorite recipe or just get rid of the saltiest processed foods from your diet. You could also just cut the salt you can’t taste – like in your pasta water. It’ll take 6 – 8 weeks to get used to your new low-sodium diet, so be patient. Soon, you’ll be wondering how you ever ate anything so salty.

5. Learn what labels mean.

Since most of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, it’s important to understand the food labels. A product labeled low-fat or low-calorie might compensate by loading up on sodium for flavor. Watch out for ingredients that say sodium in them – like MSG (monosodium glutamate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). You should also beware of the label “no salt added,” since the original ingredients might be high in sodium. Finally, pay attention to the amounts! The FDA considers less than 140 mg a serving to be low-sodium. As a general rule, shoot for foods with less than 200 mg a serving, and avoid any if the milligrams of sodium are greater than the calories per serving. That’s way too much!

6. Know what convenience products to buy.

Cooking can mean using salt-loaded convenience products, but it doesn’t have to. Frozen fruits and vegetables are useful and often don’t have added sodium. You can find low or no-sodium versions of foods like chicken broth, then add salt to taste. Canned foods often have high sodium levels, but rinsing and draining reduces the sodium by 41%. Do this for canned beans and even tuna. You can also mix low-sodium and regular versions to help wean yourself.

7. Up your produce intake.

Eating potassium-rich food helps neutralize some of the damaging effects of excess sodium. Some potassium-rich foods include oranges, bananas, potatoes and tomatoes. For best results, cook these foods so they don’t need salt. Roasting, steaming and grilling will help offset the bitter tastes of some produce.

8. Rethink your condiments.

Condiments like salad dressing, ketchup and even soy sauce are loaded with sodium. There are several ways to reduce this amount. Always ask for condiments on the side when you eat out and dress your own food. Make your own condiments like salad dressing or steak sauce, and consider diluting soy sauce. You could also rethink the classics. Try using homemade salsa, vinegars, cheese or even avocado.

9. Salt on purpose.

When you do salt your food, do it with purpose. Always salt at the end of a dish – it lets you use less salt for more flavor. Taste your food in the kitchen and avoid placing the saltshaker on the table, since doing so often means we mindlessly salt our food. Alternatively, try using a salt grinder. It will let you see how much salt you’re really eating and let you salt on purpose.

10. Use other spices.

Salt is a great flavor enhancer, but it’s not the only one! Using fresh herbs and spices will improve the taste of your food without upping your sodium intake. Think about making it spicy instead of salty! You can also add acidic ingredients like citrus and vinegar, since these activate the same taste sensors as salt – helping you miss the salt less.

11. Sodium doesn’t equal salty.

What do you think is the biggest source of sodium in the American diet? The answer: bread. Lots of high-sodium foods don’t taste salty to us at all, like the Salty Six. Sure, you can tell that bacon and salami have high sodium levels. But what about croissants or cottage cheese or roast chicken? Remember, just because something doesn’t taste salty doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with sodium. So beware of what you eat.

Liked this? Check out 8 Healthy Cuisines to Try.

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Image Credit: Kaboompics via CC0

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