According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American consumes 3,436 milligrams of sodium a day, so cutting down to 1,500 milligrams may seem like a daunting task. If your doctor put you on a low-sodium diet to reduce your risk of heart disease, or you're reducing your sodium intake on your own to prevent health problems down the road, you can easily cut extra sodium from your diet by eating more fresh foods and less processed foods.
Sodium may seem like an unnecessary part of your diet, but your body couldn’t survive without this essential nutrient. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body needs between 180 and 500 milligrams of sodium a day for fluid balance and nerve and muscle function. Eating too much sodium causes fluid retention, an uncomfortable side effect when you need to button your pants, but a dangerous effect when it occurs in your bloodstream. Extra sodium attracts more fluid to your blood, increasing your blood pressure. To reduce these risks, the Institute of Medicine recommends adults limit their daily sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day, but adults with high blood pressure and other heart disease risks should reduce their daily intake to 1,500 milligrams.
Fresh Meats and Fish
Putting away the salt shaker will cut a little sodium out of your diet, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 75 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods. In the meat section of the grocery store, avoid high-sodium meats like bacon, sausage, processed deli meats and canned meats, and fill your cart with fresh, low-sodium options. Three ounces of fresh, raw salmon contain 87 milligrams of sodium, but 3 ounces of canned salmon contains 443 milligrams, or 30 percent of the daily sodium limit for a 1,500-milligram diet plan.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are excellent choices for a low-sodium diet, because these healthy foods provide potassium, an essential electrolyte that lowers blood pressure and reduces the dangerous effects of sodium. Frozen fruits and veggies provide a cheaper alternative to fresh produce, but check the sodium content of frozen varieties prepared with sauces and glazes. One cup of plain, frozen cauliflower contains 17 milligrams of sodium, but 3 ounces of frozen cauliflower with cheese sauce contains 325 milligrams. When buying canned vegetables, look for low-sodium options. One cup of regular canned carrots has 386 milligrams of sodium, but 1 cup of low-sodium canned carrots provides only 58 milligrams.
Even if you watch your sodium intake at meal time, it's easy to overlook the sodium content of your seasonings. One teaspoon of meat tenderizer contains 1,750 milligrams of sodium, but the low-sodium variety provides only 1 milligram per teaspoon. Fresh herbs and dried spices contain virtually no sodium, but seasoning salts can easily exceed your sodium limit for the day. One teaspoon of onion salt contains 1,620 milligrams of sodium, but substituting 1 teaspoon of onion powder adds only 1 milligram of sodium to your dish.
If you’re tempted by potato chips and salted pretzels in the convenience store, satisfy your need for a crunchy snack with unsalted, air-popped popcorn. A natural whole grain, plain popcorn has 93 calories and 2 milligrams of sodium per 3-cup serving. If you need a more filling snack, munch on 1 ounce of unsalted nuts. Nuts are a rich source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and unsalted peanuts contain virtually no sodium per serving.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt)
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Electrolytes and Water
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Get the Facts: Sodium’s Role in Processed Food
- Texas A+M Agrilife Extension: The Sodium Content of Your Foods
- USDA Nutrient Database: Air-popped Popcorn
- Harvard School of Public Health: Too Much Salt, Too Little Potassium, Increases Risk of Death
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Fish, Salmon, Atlantic, Wild, Raw
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.