Sodium (salt) is a mineral found in many foods. We need sodium for important bodily functions such as muscle contraction and water balance. On a two gram (2,000 milligrams [mg]) sodium diet you will be limiting the amount of high-sodium foods that you eat.
A low-sodium diet can prevent or lower
high blood pressure,
and prevent and improve edema (water retention), which can occur with conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease. The foods highest in sodium include table salt (about 50% sodium), processed foods, condiments, seasonings, convenience foods, and preserved foods. Just one teaspoon of salt has 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium.
Examples of processed foods include canned foods, frozen dinners, snack foods, packaged starchy foods (seasoned rice, instant mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese), baking mixes, deli meats and cheeses, sausages, and cured or smoked meats.
|Food Category||Foods Recommended||Foods to Avoid|
|Grains|| Breads and rolls without salted tops, muffinsReady-to-eat and cooked cerealsUnsalted crackers and breadsticksLow-sodium or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffingAll rice and pastas|| Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted topsQuick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixesRegular bread crumbsInstant hot cerealsCommercially prepared rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes|
|Vegetables|| Most fresh, frozen, and low-sodium canned vegetablesLow-sodium and salt-free vegetable juices|| Regular canned vegetables and juices, including sauerkraut and pickled vegetablesFrozen vegetables with saucesCommercially prepared potato and vegetable mixes|
|Fruits|| Most fresh, frozen, and canned fruitsAll fruit juices|| Fruits processed with salt or sodium|
|Milk|| All milk, but limit to a total of 2 cups dailyAll yogurtMost low-sodium cheeses (including ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese)|| Malted and chocolate milkRegular and processed cheese, cheese spreads, and saucesButtermilk (no more than 1 cup per week)|
|Meats and Beans|| Any fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and some shellfishEggs and egg substitutesLow-sodium peanut butterDried peas and beansUnsalted nuts|| Any smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry (including bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, frankfurters, sausages, sardines, and anchovies)Frozen breaded meatsSalted nuts|
|Fats and Oils|| Low-sodium or unsalted butter and margarineAll plain oils, low-sodium salad dressings|| Oils mixed with other, high-sodium ingredients (salad dressing)|
|Snacks and Condiments|| Low-sodium or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, condiments, and snack foodsPepper, herbs, and spices; vinegar, lemon, or lime juice|| Broth, soups, gravies, and sauces made from instant mixes or other high-sodium ingredientsSalted snack foods, olivesMeat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars|
|Beverages|| Low-sodium carbonated beverages|| Commercially softened water|
Make fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed whole grains (such as old-fashioned oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, barley, bulgur, and whole-wheat couscous) the base of your diet.Do not add salt to food when cooking or at the table. If food needs more flavor, get creative and try different herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, lemon, lime, and vinegar also add flavor to foods.Avoid fast food and convenience food—they tend to have a lot of added salt.Salt is often used as a preservative. Fresh foods are lowest in salt. Purchase fresh poultry, fish, meat, and vegetables whenever possible.A good rule of thumb, when in the grocery store, all the aisles in the middle of the store contain products with high sodium. And usually all foods on the outside aisles (produce, meats, etc.) are lower in sodium.Certain medications may contain sodium, for example antacids and laxatives. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about any medications before you take them.When eating out, choose meals that are lower in salt and ask that your food be prepared without any added salt.
Avoid foods that contain more than 500 mg salt per serving, this includes soups and frozen dinners.Don’t just check the list of ingredients for the words sodium and salt—sodium may be disguised under other names. Here are some common high-sodium ingredients: monosodium glutamate, brine, and broth.
Here are the definitions of some commonly used terms that you may see on foods:
|Sodium-free||Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving|
|Very low sodium||35 mg of sodium or less in each serving|
|Low sodium||140 mg or less in each serving|
|Reduced sodium||At least 25% less sodium in each serving than the reference food. For example, if the food usually has 1,000 mg of sodium, the same food made with reduced sodium would contain 750 mg of sodium. Food not necessarily “low sodium.”|
|Light in sodium||50% less salt than in original product|
|“No Salt Added” and “Unsalted”||No salt was added to the product. However, the food may still contain sodium.|
Choose foods low in sodium. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/healthdisp/pdf/tipsheets/Choose-Foods-Low-in-Sodium.pdf. Updated December 2013. Accessed September 29, 2015.
Dietary interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 21, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2015.
Shaking the salt habit. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp. Updated May 18, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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