Low Salt Diet

Following a low salt diet will benefit people with certain medical conditions such as heart disease, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. Salt (also known as sodium) is a mineral commonly found in food. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

Most foods contain sodium, but some foods contain a lot more than others. Foods high in sodium include pre-packaged and processed foods (foods that come in cans, boxes or packages), fast food and salty snacks. To reduce sodium in your diet, choose foods that are lower in sodium, avoid foods high in sodium and reduce added salt in cooking and baking.

Steps to reducing salt:

1. Read the Nutrition Facts Label
The best way to decide if a food is low in sodium is to read the Nutrition Facts Label. Nutrition Facts Labels are found on the packaging of most foods.

Tip: Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables do not have a Nutrition Facts Label, but they are naturally low in sodium.

What do I look at?

  • Serving Size. The nutrition information on the label is for the serving size listed. Be aware of the number of servings you are eating.
  • Sodium. Limit sodium intake to 2,400 milligrams (mg) per day.
  • % Daily Value tells you how much of each nutrient is provided per serving.

Remember this rule:
5% or less is low. Aim for foods low in sodium.
20% or more is high. Avoid foods high in sodium.

Example: The % Daily Value for sodium is 20%. That means that this food is high in sodium. Most of the foods we eat should be low in sodium (5% or less). Food high in sodium (20% or more) should be avoided.

2. Know the Label Lingo
Look for these key terms when purchasing food. Choosing foods reduced, low, very low or sodium free is a great way to reduce your salt intake.

  • No Added Salt, Unsalted – No salt is added during processing, but the product may still contain sodium
  • Reduced Sodium – Contains 25% less sodium than the usual product
  • Low Sodium – 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • Very Low Sodium – 35 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • Sodium Free – 5 milligrams or less of sodium per serving

3. Avoid Adding Salt Limit the amount of salt added to food while cooking and at the table. Instead of salt, try using salt substitutes such as Mrs. Dash, NuSalt, additional spices, vinegar and lemon juice for flavor. If using salt in small amounts, choose a course salt such as sea salt which is naturally lower in sodium.

Tip: Some salt substitutes can contain a lot of potassium such as NuSalt. Remember to ask your physician if this is a good choice for you.

4. Avoid Higher Sodium Foods
Either avoid the following foods or choose reduced or lower sodium versions.

  • Pre-packaged and Processed Foods – These foods have a lot of salt added during their preparation.
    Examples: Canned soups, sauces and vegetables, seasoning mixes, canned meals, TV dinners, frozen pizzas, packaged macaroni dinners, pre-assembled boxed or frozen meals and salty snack foods (crackers, chips, pretzels, popcorn).
    Tip: If eating canned vegetables, rinse them under water to remove some of the salt before eating.

  • Dining Out – Fast food and food prepared in restaurants tend to be high in salt. See Healthy Tips For Eating Out.
    Examples: French fries, burgers, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, tacos, nachos and Chinese food.
    Tip: Ask for no added salt to your entrée. (Most restaurants are willing to accommodate diet restrictions.)

  • Condiments – Some condiments tend to be higher in sodium than others. Limit your intake of higher sodium condiments to one to two teaspoons.
    Examples: Ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles, salad dressing, soy sauce and taco sauce.
    Tip: Try making your own salad dressing to control the amount of sodium.

  • Processed or Cured Meats – Instead of eating these meats, choose fresh meats that are naturally lower in sodium.
    Examples: Hot dogs, bologna, kielbasa, cold cuts, ham, sausage, bacon and dried beef.
    Tip: By choosing fresh lean meats, not only will you reduce the sodium in your diet, but also the “bad fats” that can lead to heart disease!

5. Choose Lower Sodium Foods

  • Type of Food - Milk and Milk Products
    Best Choices: Milk, yogurt, low fat buttermilk, reduced sodium cheeses. Limit to one to two ounces of regular cheese per day.
    Foods to Avoid: Processed cheese, cheese spreads and sauces. High amounts of hard cheese.

  • Type of Food - Breads and Cereals
    Best Choices: Whole-wheat, rye, pumpernickel and white bread, breadsticks, rolls, muffins, cornbread, most dry cereals, cooked cereal, unsalted crackers and unsalted breadcrumbs. Rice, barley, noodles cooked without salt and low-sodium stuffing.
    Foods to Avoid: Crackers with salted tops and salted chips. Bread stuffing, mixes, biscuit mixes, salted breadcrumbs and cracker crumbs. Commercially prepared rice or pasta mixes.

  • Type of Food: Meat, Fish, Poultry and Alternatives
    Best Choices: Any fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, canned tuna or salmon, rinsed. Eggs and egg substitutes. Unsalted nuts and seeds. Reduced or low sodium peanut butter. Dried peas and beans. Frozen dinners (less than 20% daily value).
    Foods to Avoid: Any smoked, cured, salted, koshered, canned or commercially breaded meat, fish and poultry including bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, ham, hot dogs, sausage, sardines, anchovies and imitation seafood. Marinated and pickled meats, pickled eggs, salted nuts and nut butters.

  • Type of Food: Fruits and Vegetables
    Best Choices: Fresh fruits and vegetables; frozen fruits and vegetables; low sodium canned vegetables and canned vegetables, rinsed; canned tomatoes (limit to ½ serving size), low sodium and salt free vegetable juices; most fresh, frozen and canned fruits and fruit juices.
    Foods to Avoid: Regular canned vegetables; sauerkraut; pickled vegetables and others prepared in a brine; frozen vegetables in sauces; vegetables seasoned with ham, bacon or salt pork; regular vegetable or tomato juices; commercially prepared potato mixes; fruits processed with salt (some dried fruits).