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Regulating sodium intake is one of the most challenging diet considerations. In many countries, too much sodium in the diet has been linked to hypertension, heart disease, and even stroke. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to control the amount of sodium in your diet. Here’s what you need to know about how to navigate sodium intake without overdoing it in everyday foods.
Understanding the Basics of Sodium Intake
Sodium is a mineral found naturally in some foods and is also added to many processed foods. It helps prevent spoilage, enhance flavors, and preserve freshness. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a limit of 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. 2,000 mg is even better for those over the age of 51, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.
Simple Steps to Help Lower Sodium Intake
If your goal is to reduce sodium intake, there are a few strategies to put into practice. Here are a few simple steps to help lower sodium intake:
- Opt for fresh over processed. Whenever possible, opt for fresh, unprocessed foods over canned or processed options. Processed foods are often high in sodium.
- Read nutrition labels. Nutrition labels are a great way to track sodium intake. Be sure to look at the serving size, then check the sodium content per serving. Aim for 500 mg or less per serving.
- Try alternative seasonings. Instead of using salt to season food, try herbs, spices, garlic, onion, and citrus juice to add flavor.
Hidden Sources of Sodium in Everyday Foods
Many everyday foods contain hidden sources of sodium. Even if you don’t actively add salt, it can still be present in foods. Here are some of the most common sources of hidden sodium:
- Breads and rolls. Breads and rolls can be surprisingly high in sodium, especially if they contain cheese, bacon, or other salty ingredients.
- Meats. Pre-packaged lunch meats, bacon, and hot dogs contain a lot of sodium.
- Soups and sauces. Many soups and sauces contain added salt, so be sure to read the nutrition labels.
- Fast food. Fast food dishes can be high in sodium, especially if they contain cheese, bacon, or salty sauces.
Foods that Help Keep Sodium Levels in Check
It’s not enough to just avoid high-sodium foods; including foods that are naturally low in sodium is also important. Here are some of the best foods to include in your diet to keep sodium levels in check:
- Fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally low in sodium, and they’re also packed with essential nutrients.
- Whole grains. Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat are naturally low in sodium.
- Low-sodium dairy. Opt for plain, low-sodium dairy products such as skim or 1% milk, plain yogurt, and reduced-fat cheeses.
- Legumes. Legumes are a great source of fiber and protein and are low in sodium. Try chickpeas, lentils, and black beans.
- Nuts and seeds. When purchasing nuts and seeds, look for varieties that are unsalted or lightly salted.
Navigating sodium intake doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By understanding the basics of sodium intake, taking simple steps to reduce sodium intake, and knowing which foods to include and avoid, it’s easy to keep sodium levels in check.
Tips to Avoid Overdoing It with Sodium
In addition to following the tips above, there are a few key tips to help you avoid overdoing it with sodium:
- Watch the added salt. It can be easy to go overboard with the salt shaker. Aim to use as little added salt as possible, and try alternative seasonings instead.
- Be mindful of condiments. Mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and steak sauce can all be high in sodium. Try to use as little of these condiments as possible.
- Check the label. Whenever you purchase a processed food, be sure to check the nutrition label for sodium content.
By following these tips, it’s possible to navigate sodium intake without overdoing it. It may take some time and effort to get used to eating a low-sodium diet, but the health benefits make it worth it.
It’s important to take steps to maintain a healthy sodium intake. Although processed foods tend to be high in sodium, there are also plenty of fresh and unprocessed options that are naturally low in sodium. Additionally, using alternative seasonings and condiments, reading labels, and limiting added salt can all help to reduce sodium intake without sacrificing flavor.
- Kowalski, R. E. (2018). The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook: Over 150 Fresh and Delicious Recipes to Speed Weight Loss, Lower Blood Pressure, and Prevent Diabetes. Hachette UK.
- Nestle, M. (2014). Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet. University of California Press.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020. Eighth Edition. December 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/