Here’s your quick guide to mastering a low sodium diet for your health. Including simple food lists and tips to stay on track while eating out and at home.
What is Sodium?
Sodium is an electrolyte and mineral essential for life that is naturally occurring in small amounts in many foods including vegetables like celery and beets.
It plays a role in many bodily processes such as regulating blood pressure, nerve transmission, muscle contractions, and maintenance of fluid balances.
Sodium deficiency is rare because it is naturally present within most foods but also because it is commonly added to foods in the form of salt.
How is Sodium Different From Salt?
Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different things.
Salt is a mixture of sodium and chloride.
Salt is one of the most common sources of dietary sodium, as it is often added during the cooking or manufacturing process or as a preservation agent. Over 70% of the sodium Americans eat comes from packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker (1).
We get into trouble when we intake too much sodium, no matter what form it comes in.
Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium in your body; if there is too much or you have underlying kidney complications, sodium may build up in your blood leading to a cascade of health problems (2,3).
Sodium is a vital micronutrient beneficial to proper health, but too much sodium in our diet has been linked to health complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease (4).
What is a Low Sodium Diet?
The majority of people get way too much in their diet, with an average intake of around 3,400 mg per day (4).
To put this into perspective, one teaspoon of table salt = 2,300 mg of sodium!
When following this protocol, it's recommended to limit high sodium foods or completely avoid them in order to keep your intake under the recommended level.
Cutting back can feel challenging at first, but it doesn’t have to be. It starts by learning what foods to eat less of and which to stock up on. Plus you'll reap the health benefits of building a healthier diet.
One of the most popular low sodium diets used for heart health is the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
Health Benefits of Reducing Salt Consumption
Low sodium diets are commonly prescribed for a variety of conditions because research suggests that restricting sodium intake may help prevent and manage certain medical conditions.
These guidelines are even stricter for people following a cardiac diet or anyone with high blood pressure with experts recommending they may need less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day - this would be considered a low sodium diet (7).
Studies suggest that patients with chronic kidney disease also benefit from a low sodium protocol as excess dietary sodium interferes with kidney function, and affects fluid volume, proteinuria, and immunosuppressant therapy (10,11).
Sodium may also affect the development of osteoporosis as increased dietary sodium can lead to calcium deficiency; although we can combat this by eating more potassium-rich foods, a low-sodium protocol is a more sustainable option to protect us from bone loss (12).
A low sodium diet means to ingest no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day of sodium, with the ideal amount being less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults (13).
Tips To Master a Low Salt Diet
Learning how to cut back on salt just takes a little practice and a little education from trusted sources. Get familiar with the best low sodium foods and stay on top of your daily intake using the following tips and tricks:
1. Track Your Intake
Start by tracking your current sodium intake by using a nutrition tracking app.
This is an easy way to understand where the majority of your dietary sodium is coming from, where to start making healthy swaps, and to ensure you are staying on top of the recommended guidelines and sticking to a low salt diet overall.
There are multiple ways to track your intake, you can try using a fitness app like the Trifecta App, a food journal, or calculate how many calories you need per day.
Try this free calorie calculator to get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) in a few minutes:
Try logging everything you eat and drink in a food tracking app and use your daily and weekly nutrition analytics to see exactly how much sodium per day you consume.
2. Plan Your Meals
Planning some or all of your meals in advance is another great way to take control of your nutrition - especially since you know exactly what you’re getting each day.
You don’t have to rely on complicated recipes and fancy ingredients to be successful, start with simple meal ideas and find what works best for you!
Use this free menu planning template to choose foods and map out your heart-healthy menu for the week.
There are a ton of diets out there, paleo, keto, vegan, whole-foods, flexitarian; all of these can be modified to be low sodium as long as you focus on consuming fresh whole foods and limiting the amount of salt you add to foods when cooking.
A few key tips to remember when planning your meals for a low sodium diet:
- Choose to start off preparing a few meals each week at home to slowly transition into eating more homecooked meals
- Limit your use of packaged sauces, mixes, "instant" products, and store-bought dressings. and sides.
- Focus on purchasing fresh ingredients: meat, poultry, whole fruits and vegetables, whole-grains
- Opt for fresh veggies over canned or frozen, or look for low sodium or no-salt-added canned goods
- Rinse canned foods such as beans to remove excess sodium
- Purchase unslated or no-salt snacks like unsalted nuts or go for veggie sticks
- Drinks contain sodium as well, opt for water over anything else
Take matters into your own hands by learning how to meal prep your lunches and cook healthy dinners at home.
Eat More Fresh, Whole Foods
The following foods are naturally low in sodium, use these as a resource when planning your grocery list!
Keep in mind that most fresh fruits, vegetables, raw unprocessed proteins, uncooked whole grains, and anything in its most natural whole form is probably low-sodium. If it's a packaged food item, there is more likely added sodium.
We've also put an asterisk next to foods high in Potassium as Potassium is thought to help counteract some of the negative effects of high sodium intake. Most fresh fruits and veggies tend to be a good source of potassium, along with other beneficial nutrients - making them an excellent choice all around.
Remember that your diet is an accumulation of everything you eat in a day, so although some foods may be higher in sodium, you can balance out your daily intake by being mindful of your meals.
All fruits are low sodium as long as they are fresh and unprocessed.
Oranges* & Citrus
Berries (strawberries, blueberries etc.)
All Fresh and frozen unsalted vegetables
No-salt-added or low-sodium canned vegetables or tomatoes
Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts etc.)
|Beans and Legumes*
Brown or Wild Rice
Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta
Oats or shredded wheat
Low-Sodium Chips and Pretzels
Whole-Grain Bread, bagels, English muffins, tortillas, and crackers
Homemade waffles & pancakes with no salt
Rice Noodles/No-salt noodles
Any processed grains or cereals with more than 180 mg sodium per serving
If Canned, choose low-sodium or no-sodium:
Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas)
|Nuts & Seeds (Unsalted)
|Unseasoned Proteins & Seafood
All seeds and nuts as long as they are unsalted:
All proteins as long as they are unseasoned, no marinades, etc:
Chicken (breast, thigh, whole, ground)
Beef (ground, steak, etc.)
Lamb & Veal
Fresh or frozen fish and seafood
Low-Sodium canned tuna
|Fats, Oils & Vinegar
Low fat-milk* and milk products
All oils and vinegars are considered low-sodium:
Nut Oils (walnut, almond, sunflower etc.)
Apple Cider Vinegar
* Foods rich in potassium
High Sodium Foods to Avoid
The majority of salt intake happens when dining out at restaurants, eating fast food, or consuming a lot of packaged and prepared foods like the following:
- Sauces like soy sauce, ketchup, marinara, teriyaki, BBQ, salad dressings, etc.
- Canned Foods
- Salty Snacks foods: rule of thumb, if you can see the salt on the food then it's probably a no-go. Salted pretzels, chips, salted nuts, crackers, etc.
- Bread, bagels, tortillas, biscuits
- Processed meats: these meats tend to be cured in or contain high amounts of sodium for preservation purposes; bacon, sausage, lunch meats, hot dogs,
- Frozen Meals or Foods: frozen processed meats, pizza, dishes
- Cheese and cottage cheese
- Pickled foods and veggies
- Salted nuts and seeds
- Salted butter
- Seasonings with salt
Additionally, foods naturally higher in sodium include:
- Crab legs
3. Read Food Labels
If eating a packaged food item, always check the nutrition facts label to check the sodium levels in your food choices.
As a general rule of thumb, anything with lower than 5% of the daily value for sodium is considered “low”, and anything with more than 20% is “high” (7).
Use this simple chart to understand basic sodium claims and guide your food purchases next time you shop:
Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
Very Low Sodium
35 mg of sodium or less per serving
140 mg of sodium or less per serving
At least 25% less sodium than the original product
Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted
At least 50% less sodium than the original product
No-Salt-Added or Unsalted
No salt is added during processing – but these products may not be salt/sodium-free
4. Avoid Salt While Eating Out, Or Opt to Cook at Home More
When eating at a restaurant or grabbing anything prepared outside of your home, ask your server to skip the salt if possible.
You can also opt for dishes made without common high sodium ingredients like sauces, breading, and cheese, and stick more simple ingredients. For example, instead of chicken parmesan, try a grilled chicken breast.
You can also check the restaurant’s website for nutrition information in advance or ask your server if this information is available. This will help you know exactly how much sodium you’re getting with your meal choice.
5. Use Alternative Seasonigs
It is entirely possible to add a ton of flavor to your food without reaching for the salt every time. Utlizing herbs, spices, and seasonings such as vinegar is the perfect way to skip the salt and pack the flavor.
You'll also get the added bonus of small amounts of healthy minerals and phytonutrients from using fresh and dried herbs and spices.
Here are some great salt substitutes without all the sodium:
- Fresh and dried herbs
- Citrus juice and zest
- Lemon pepper
- Onion powder
- Vinegars such as apple cider or balsamic
- Chili flakes
- Any salt-free seasoning blend
Sample Diet Menu
To help you get started, here is an example of a simple, healthy low sodium diet that requires little food prep and won’t break the bank.
- Daily Calories: 1500
- Total daily sodium: 566 mg
- Total daily potassium: 3,556 mg
128 mg sodium
1014 mg potassium
213 mg sodium
1569 mg potassium
222 mg sodium
590 mg potassium
3 mg sodium
383 mg potassium
Not interested in making your own meals or having trouble balancing your salt intake? Put your sodium-controlled diet on autopilot by opting for a trusted meal delivery company that has pre-cooked proteins, grains, and veggies made with minimal seasonings.