How to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet

Learn how much is too much and sources you might not be aware of

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For many people, consuming too much sodium may contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues, and it may lead to fluid retention and bloating. If you're sensitive to sodium, decreasing the amount of added salt and ingredients that contain sodium that you consume may help keep your blood pressure at a healthier level.

Intake Guidelines

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, these groups of people should limit their sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day:

  • African Americans
  • People with diabetes
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with kidney disease
  • Everyone over the age of 50

Anyone not included in that large group should stay under 2,300 milligrams per day, which is not easy if you eat any processed foods at all—even some that are otherwise good for you. Look at the Nutrition Facts label for the amount of sodium per serving.

Sources of Sodium

One teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams sodium. Just one-quarter teaspoon has 580 milligrams, and a dash of salt has around 150 milligrams.

While salt is a primary source, many processed foods are high in sodium, too. Canned foods, frozen meals, cured meats, and many other processed foods contain outrageous 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.

Obviously, look for salt on food labels. But also look for these ingredients, which contain sodium:

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

Strategies for Cutting Back

Your body needs some sodium, so you don't want to eliminate it entirely from your diet, although doing so is an almost impossible feat. You can reduce your overall intake with these tips:

  • Read food labels and choose foods that are low in sodium (avoid products that have more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving). 
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned.
  • Avoid lunch meats and cured meats.
  • Stay away from frozen convenience foods like frozen dinners, pizzas, and snack foods.
  • Buy unsalted nuts and snacks.
  • Eliminate salt from your recipes.
  • Try salt substitutes made with potassium.
  • Seasoning blends can work well, but read the Nutrition Facts labels because they often contain sodium.

Can You Rinse It 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 seem to differ on this. But if you rinse your canned goods for a minute or so, you may be able to reduce the sodium content by 10 percent to 30 percent.

If you need to track your sodium grams every day, you're probably better off buying low-sodium canned goods and fresh or frozen vegetables, rather than canned.

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