The average person consumes about 20 times more salt than the body needs, putting themselves at risk of health complications. However, there are a lot of foods that are low sodium – you can try a low sodium diet to maintain good health.
Table salt is the main source of sodium. Our bodies only need ¼ teaspoon of salt each day, but since sodium is added to so many foods during preparation and processing, many people are getting more than they should.
Sodium is a substance that can be difficult to monitor by taste alone. Some foods taste as if they do not contain salt, but in fact, are high in sodium. Canned foods, processed foods, convenience foods, and fast foods can all include sodium.
We need sodium to help control fluid balance in our bodies and maintain both blood volume and pressure. When we eat too much sodium, it can lead to fluid retention and high blood pressure. For people who have cardiovascular diseases, the recommended limit for sodium is about two-thirds of a teaspoon per day.
Can Everyone Follow a Low Sodium Diet?
There is a tendency to assume that a low sodium diet is best for everyone. In reality, not all of us need to be on a diet that includes only foods low in sodium. To put it in perspective, a low sodium diet means less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. As long as you don’t go over 2,300 milligrams, you should be okay.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should consider lowering your sodium intake. Decreasing salt intake can help reduce your pressure numbers and take stress off of your heart. Research tells us that African Americans, as well as those who suffer from diabetes, are at a higher risk of getting high blood pressure, so they may benefit from adopting a low sodium diet menu.
Too much salt can cause fluid retention, which can be hard on people with kidney disease. If you have kidney issues, low sodium foods are recommended.
Benefits of Low Sodium Diet
There are many benefits of a low sodium diet. Reducing sodium or salt helps lower blood pressure, and prevents swelling of extremities. It also lowers your risk of heart disease. Some medications will work more efficiently if you are on a low sodium diet.
Research indicates that there is a decreased risk of death due to stroke and a reduced risk of kidney stones, as well as osteoporosis, when you consume low sodium foods. Sodium intake can affect diuretics, so if you are taking them, you should talk to your doctor about your diet. They may have specific instructions about both fluid intake and sodium consumption.
Foods That Are Low in Sodium
Identifying what foods are low in sodium can be challenging. The following low sodium foods list provides a good sampling of what to include in a healthy diet.
- Fresh and frozen vegetables – vegetables are naturally low in sodium, but you do have to be aware that canned vegetables are high in salt, and so are salad dressings.
- Baked potatoes – both white potatoes and sweet potatoes contain little sodium and are high in potassium.
- Unsalted snacks – nuts are a great snack if they are unsalted. They take longer to eat when you have to take them out of the shell so they can prevent overeating as well. Popcorn is also a great low sodium treat when it is the unsalted version.
- Fruit – like veggies, fruits are naturally low in sodium. Apples, pears, bananas, and apricots are packed with nutrients and include potassium.
- Yogurt – plain yogurt generally doesn’t contain a lot of sodium or sugar. It doesn’t have to be bland either. You can add fruit to it to give it some more flavor.
- Beans and lentils – both beans and lentils are foods in a low sodium diet. They are said to help lower bad cholesterol. If you are thinking of consuming canned beans, just make sure that they are labeled low sodium.
- Meats & poultry – smoked, canned, and cured meats are high in sodium but fresh or frozen meats, such as beef, lamb, pork, or poultry, can be low in sodium.
- Fish – drained oil or water-packed canned fish is low sodium.
- Eggs – many people add salt and other fixings that contain a lot of sodium to their eggs, but plain eggs or low sodium egg substitute is okay.
- Cheese – certain cheeses contain a lot of salt, but you can also find low sodium hard cheeses and cream cheeses.
- Carbs – bread, bagels, and rolls without salted tops are acceptable low sodium foods.
- Pasta – pasta and rice can be consumed on a low sodium diet if salt isn’t added when cooking it. Low sodium crackers are also acceptable.
- Soups – only soups that are low sodium (canned or homemade) should be included in a low sodium menu.
- Sauces and dressings – despite what some people might think, there are some very delicious low sodium sauces and dressings to add flavor to an otherwise bland menu.
- Desserts – when we think of sweets, we think sugar, yet there are many desserts that contain salt. There are also low sodium desserts.
- Fats – good fats like avocados and olive oil promote cardiovascular health and they contain very little sodium.
Tips to Consider for a Low Sodium Diet
If you are seriously thinking about a low sodium diet, here are some tips to take into consideration:
- Talk to your doctor – sometimes, when people try cutting something like salt out of their diet, they go too low. It is best to consult with a doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.
- Go slow – don’t cut salt out in a sudden fashion. Start slowly by trying frozen vegetables once a week instead of canned or by not adding salt to your meals. If you gradually make changes, your taste buds will adjust, and food will taste good without a lot of salt.
- Check labels – you need to read labels because some products that claim to be low sodium could just be lower than the regular version but still too high for you. There are also foods that are normally healthy that could have added salt in them.
- Experiment – you can make your own dressings by using extra spices, such as paprika, to make up for less salt. You can also use fresh herbs to add flavor to dishes. People who are trying to lower salt intake often report that lemon juice is a great flavor additive. One other trick is to roast vegetables since it tends to intensify the flavor so much that you just don’t miss the salt.
- Rethink snack time – we assume that our craving for snacks is related to salt, but for many people, it can be the texture or crunch. See if you can find an unsalted, crunchy snack that suits your craving.
- A little salt through the day – spread sodium in small amounts throughout the day instead of having your limited daily intake all at once.
- Be smart at restaurants – salt is often added just before food is delivered to the table, so don’t be afraid to request less salt or ask for custom dishes. Remember to ask for sauces or dressings on the side.
Sample Meal Plan for a Low Sodium Diet
The following is a sample meal plan for a two-day period. It will give you a better sense of what a typical low sodium diet looks like.
- Breakfast – 8 oz orange juice, 1 cup of cold cereal, 1 thin-sliced whole wheat piece of toast with jelly, 1 tsp margarine, 8 oz skim milk, and 1 cup of coffee or tea.
- Morning snack – 1 banana
- Lunch – fresh turkey sandwich (no salt), 2 thin-slices of bread, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, lettuce, slice of tomato, tossed salad with low sodium dressing, and a diet soda.
- Afternoon snack – ½ cup of yogurt
- Dinner – 3 oz. roast beef, 1 tablespoon of low sodium gravy, medium sized baked potato, 1 tablespoon margarine, 1 cup of green beans, 8 oz. skim milk
- After dinner snack – 1 cup sherbet
- Breakfast – ½ cup of apple juice, 1 cup of oatmeal, no salt added, ½ cup of blueberries, 1 thin-slice of whole wheat bread, 1 teaspoon of margarine, 8 oz. skim milk and a cup of coffee or tea.
- Morning snack – 3 to 5 low sodium crackers
- Lunch – 2 cups of tossed salad with 1 tablespoon of low sodium dressing, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, melon, 3 oz. low sodium tuna, and 2 thin-slices of 45-calorie bread.
- Afternoon snack – ½ cup of fruit cocktail
- Dinner – 4 oz. broiled walleye, 1 corn on the cob, 1 cup of baby carrots, 1 cup of noodles with no salt, 1 teaspoon of margarine, and 8 oz. skim milk.
- After dinner snack – 1 slice of angel food cake with strawberries
While a low sodium diet may initially sound rather restrictive, you can spice up meals with pepper, jalapeno extract, hot sauces, onions, lemon, or lime juice. You can also add flavorful herbs and spices, including turmeric, thyme, garlic, rosemary, and cayenne. With a little bit of creativity, you will discover that meals really can be delicious without a lot of sodium.
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