Sodium is one component of salt (chloride is the other). Sodium is a mineral essential for regulating your body's fluid balance. If too much sodium is consumed, the body can retain fluids. This can be harmful to people with high blood pressure or heart disease. For anyone not experiencing these medical issues, following a low sodium diet can help ward them off.
Daily Sodium Requirements
The human body actually needs very little sodium to function. It is recommended to have less than 2300 mg each day if you have or want to prevent high blood pressure or heart disease. Even less is better.
How to Follow a Low-Sodium Diet
If you have been a heavy salt user for a while, switching to a reduced sodium diet may be difficult at first. The initial reaction is usually that food tastes bland. However, just the simple act of not using the salt shaker can greatly reduce salt intake. To further reduce sodium in your diet:
- Read food labels. Along with a listing of how much sodium the food contains, it will tell you what the percentage of your daily requirement is in that food.
- Begin choosing lower salt versions of your favorite foods and select minimally processed foods.
- Choose fresh vegetables over canned.
- Avoid prepackaged, ready-to-prepare meals such as boxed dinners.
- When dining in a restaurant, ask how food is prepared. Request your meal be prepared without any extra salt.
- Don't add salt to foods.
- Cook with sea salt, which tastes saltier, but has less sodium.
- Avoid fast food restaurants. Most of the items served are very high in sodium, not to mention the high amounts of calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
- Use salt alternatives, but make sure to check the label to ensure it contains minimal sodium.
- Enhance the flavor of foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. Lemon, rosemary, basil, dill, chives, vinegar, curry, sage - these are versatile flavor lifters that will not affect your body's fluids.
It might take a little while, but once your tongue adjusts to a low sodium diet, and it will, you will begin to notice high salt foods and may even be turned off by them.
If you need to avoid added salt altogether, consider the following products:
- Mrs Dash: This product, found in the spice aisle, offers an array of salt-free herb-blend seasonings such as garlic and herb, zesty, and Italian medley.
- Nu-Salt: This product contains potassium chloride for a sodium-free salt flavor.
- AlsoSalt: This is a salt-substitute that contains potassium chloride, and comes in salt-free flavors like butter flavored and garlic flavored.
- Morton Salt Substitute is another potassium chloride salt substitute.
- Herbs and spices: Make your own seasoning blend using herbs and spices like garlic and onion powder, cayenne, black pepper, thyme, and other seasonings.
Talk with your doctor before using a potassium chloride salt substitute, because in some cases, excess amounts of potassium chloride may lead to health problems.
Hidden Sources of Sodium
Aside from adding salt to foods at the table, it is found in many foods. Processed foods are loaded with it to help preserve taste and keep them shelf-stable. Even frozen foods can be high in sodium to enhance flavor. It is important to check food labels for its content in pre-packaged, canned, and frozen foods. Sodium may not always be listed as such in the ingredient list. Look for these terms as well: monosodium glutamate (MSG), brine, baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, and sodium benzoate.
Fresh foods are the best choice. Even if sodium occurs naturally in a food, the content is likely to be low. When shopping in the grocery store, stay on the outer walls of the store. This is where the fresh foods are found. The high-sodium, shelf-stable foods are in the middle of the store on the shelves.
With careful label reading and a switch to more natural foods, you can avoid salt in your diet. As your palate changes, you will begin to enjoy the natural flavors of foods without all of the salt.