How to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet

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If you are sensitive to sodium, decreasing the amount of salt you add to foods and consuming fewer ingredients that contain this mineral can help. Learn the potential effects of a high-sodium diet, as well as how to reduce your sodium intake from a variety of food sources.

Effects of Too Much Sodium

Consuming too much sodium can be harmful to your heart by contributing to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and a variety of other cardiovascular issues.

The American Heart Association reports that reducing dietary sodium is the most frequently recommended self-care behavior for heart failure patients.

Research has also connected a high sodium diet with chronic kidney disease. When blood pressure isn't controlled, it can hurt kidney function. Poor kidney function can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

One 20-year study indicates that lowering sodium intake can potentially reduce the risk of death from all causes by approximately 15%. And the more you lower your sodium intake, the more you lower this risk.

At a minimum, a high-sodium diet can lead to fluid retention and bloating. This can make you feel uncomfortable as you wind up carrying around extra water weight.

Should You Eliminate Salt Completely?

If sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and all-cause death, you may be tempted to eliminate it from your diet completely. But sodium serves some very important purposes.

Even though too much can increase blood pressure, consuming healthy amounts of sodium actually helps the body control blood pressure while also controlling blood volume. And without adequate sodium, your muscles and nerves won't work as they should.

Consuming this mineral is important support healthy body function. The key is to not consume so much that it does more harm than good.

Sodium Intake Guidelines

According to the 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily; however, the average intake for adult males is 4,172 milligrams per day and the average for adult females is 3,062 milligrams.

Even children tend to take in too much sodium, with research finding that up to 90% consume this mineral in above-recommended amounts. These suggested amounts are:

  • Ages 1 to 3: 1,200mg per day, or less
  • Ages 4 to 8: 1,500mg per day, or less
  • Ages 9 to 13: 1,800mg per day, or less
  • Ages 14 to 18: 2,300mg per day, or less (the same as adults)

If you have high blood pressure or hypertension, the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1,500mg sodium daily. Even reducing your intake by 1,000mg per day can help reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.

Certain demographics may also benefit from a sodium-restricted diet. For example, one study found that people with a Non-Hispanic Black race-ethnicity tend to have a higher sodium intake from snack foods. This rate is also often higher in those with lower incomes and lower educational levels.

The recommended amount of sodium is 2,300mg per day for adults, and less than that amount for children. However, if you have high blood pressure or are on a salt-restricted diet, try to stay under 1,500mg of sodium daily.

Strategies for Cutting Back

Your body needs some sodium, so you don't want to eliminate it entirely from your diet. You can reduce your overall intake by incorporating some or all of these tips.

Put Down the Salt Shaker

One teaspoon of table salt (sodium chloride) has about 2,300mg sodium. One-quarter teaspoon has 575mg, and a dash has around 150mg. This can quickly add up over the course of a day.

Plus, a lot of recipes call for salt. So reducing the amount of table salt you add to other foods can help keep your intake within the recommended guidelines while still allowing you to add flavor to some of your favorite meals.

Start by reducing the amount of salt you shake onto your meals. As your taste buds adjust, you'll notice that you need less to enjoy your foods. You may even start to really taste the items you eat and decide to not use table salt at all.

Use No-Salt Seasonings

Salt isn't the only flavor enhancer you can use on foods. There are also a variety of herbs and spices that can really spruce up the taste of your meals. No-salt options to consider include black pepper, cumin, cayenne, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, and sage.

Seasoning blends can work well too. Just be sure to check their ingredients lists, because some do contain sodium.

Try Low-Sodium Recipes

If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you likely realize that a lot of your recipes call for salt. Salt is often added to desserts, meat seasonings, veggie dishes, and just about everything else.

When trying to reduce your salt intake, following low-sodium recipes can help. This enables you to keep making the food you love without potentially harming your health. Low-sodium recipes to try include:

Read Food Labels

Read food labels and choose foods that are lower in sodium. In some, salt may be identified as an added ingredient. But there are also other ingredients that, on their own, also contain sodium. This includes:

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

Looking for these items on the ingredient list helps you identify whether salt might be found in some of the food staples you regularly use.

Decoding Reduced Sodium Food Labels

Reading lower-sodium food labels can be confusing. Here's what each phrase means:

  • Salt or sodium-free: Contains 5mg per serving or less
  • Very low sodium: Contains 35mg per serving or less
  • Low sodium: Contains 140mg per serving or less
  • Reduced sodium: Contains 25% less sodium than the regular product
  • Light in sodium (or lightly salted): Contains 50% less sodium than the regular product
  • No-salt-added or unsalted: No salt was added while processing the food, but it still might contain some sodium

Eat Primarily Fresh, Whole Foods

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that over 70% of the average person's sodium intake comes from foods that are packaged or prepared. So reducing your intake of these types of foods may have the greatest impact on the amount of sodium you consume.

Canned foods, frozen meals, and many other processed foods contain very high amounts of sodium, both from salt used to flavor the foods and food additives and preservatives that contain sodium in various forms. You'll find sodium in most butter or margarine, milk, bread, and other staple foods.

You can avoid these sodium sources by eating primarily fresh, whole foods. This includes fresh fruits and veggies, fresh lean meats, and other non-processed items typically found in the supermarket's produce and fresh meat aisles.

Can You Rinse Sodium Away?

Rinsing canned vegetables and legumes with water can remove some of the sodium. It's difficult to know exactly how much, as studies and sources differ on this.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, simply draining the liquid from canned vegetables such as green beans, corn, and peas can reduce sodium by up to 9%. If you rinse these vegetables too, you can decrease it by as much as 12% more.

If you need to track your sodium grams every day, you're probably better off buying low-sodium or no-salt-added canned goods and fresh or frozen vegetables.

Avoid Lunch Meats and Other Cured Meats

If you eat a lot of lunch meat or other cured meats—such as salami, pepperoni, and bacon—you may be consuming more sodium than you realize. Salt is often used in these foods to stop bacteria from growing and to increase the meat's shelf life.

Buying low sodium lunch meats is a good first step. Another alternative is to cook up some chicken or lean beef, slice it thin, and use that for your wraps or sandwiches. Play around with seasonings to keep your taste buds from getting bored.

Limit Convenience Foods

Approximately 40% of the average American's sodium intake comes from foods such as pizza, burgers, burritos, soup, and snacks. What do all of these have in common? They are convenience foods.

In a lot of cities, food items such as these can be found on almost every block. While that's great if you're hungry and have to eat on the go, it can easily push your sodium intake up to levels that are potentially harmful to your health.

Limit convenience food intake by packing your lunch or dinner when you know that you won't have time to make and eat a lower-sodium meal. This gives you greater control over your intake while still meeting your body's need to eat.

Buy Unsalted Nuts and Snacks

A lot of snack foods are salty, which can keep us reaching for more. One way to satisfy your urge to munch without exceeding healthy sodium recommendations is to purchase nuts and other snack items that are unsalted.

You can generally find these unsalted items right next to their full-salt counterparts. Making this one simple switch can help reduce your sodium intake, especially if you eat a lot of nuts or regularly like to snack.

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12 Sources
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