10 Super Simple (almost painless) Ways to Eat Less Salt
Lots of people are trying to eat less salt these days. And that’s a good thing. Too much sodium in your diet raises blood pressure and is linked to heart disease, stroke, stomach cancer and possibly even osteoporosis and kidney stones. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to eat less salt.
How Much Sodium Should You Eat Each Day?
This is a tough question to answer because an athlete who sweats a lot likely requires more than the average person. And the average healthy person is likely able to safely consume more sodium than someone with kidney disease or congestive heart failure, for example. But for general answers, I looked to three health groups. All three groups call for a limit of 2,300 mg sodium per day with a few caveats identified below.
- American Diabetes Association states that less might be better if you have both diabetes and high blood pressure.
- American Heart Association encourages a limit of 2,300 mg daily if it’s too hard to get to their preferred limit of 1500 mg daily.
- 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a reduction to 1500 mg/day for anyone with hypertension of pre-hypertension. (If you’re not sure what your blood pressure reading means, check out this explanation from the American Heart Association.)
10 Super Simple Ways to Lower Sodium Intake Without Sacrificing Taste
According to the CDC, 90% of Americans over the age of 2 years (so yes, even our kids) eat too much sodium. Our average intake is 3,400 mg sodium/day – significantly more than the recommended cap of 2,300 mg.
Most of our sodium intake comes from salt, whether it’s iodized salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt or some other favorite salt. The chemical compound in each of these is sodium chloride. It’s the sodium portion that needs trimming. Unfortunately, hiding the salt shaker isn’t enough. The vast majority of our sodium intake comes from the salt added to packaged and restaurant foods. A mere 12% or so of our sodium intake comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.
Here are my 10 favorite tips to reduce sodium at home and in restaurants.
- Combine canned goods. When you mix a can of regular tomato sauce, for example, with a canned of no salt added diced tomatoes, you lower the sodium by close to half. Try it. I don’t think you’ll notice much difference. See how I did that in my Lentil and Sweet Potato Chili and in one of my most popular recipes, Shakshuka.
- Cook more at home. You have way more control over all of your ingredients – salt, fats, sugar, everything – when you eat more home-prepared meals. Unless you are baking, most recipes call for more salt than absolutely necessary. Try reducing the salt by 1/4 or 1/2. If necessary, add a sprinkle or two after cooking and tasting.
- Squeeze fresh citrus. A bit of lemon or lime juice added at the end of cooking brings out tons of flavor, so you can use less salt. Check out how I used other citrus fruits to lower the sodium of a fave chicken dish. You’ll also see the super cool guide that Sunkist created to show us exactly how to cut sodium with lemon juice and lemon zest.
- Rinse canned beans and other vegetables. This simple step washes away about 40% of the sodium.
- Liberally use herbs and spices. Use fresh or dried or a combination of both. Don’t make these 5 common mistakes with herbs and spices.
- Use only half of a seasoning pack. When cooking a packaged rice dish, for example, trim half the sodium by using only half of the seasonings. Chances are you that you won’t need anything more, but if your dish tastes a little flat, add some more herbs and spices from your spice rack or a squeeze of lemon.
- Sprinkle MSG. I know you’re thinking that I must be crazy. After all, the S in MSG stands for sodium. In full disclosure, I learned some of this information at a sponsored conference, but I did my own fact checking and taste testing. The award-winning chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern told us that using a home mix of 2/3 table salt to 1/3 MSG (you can get it in the product Accent) is an ideal way to enhance flavor. It lowers the sodium content by about 25% because MSG has less sodium than table salt. I admit that I was totally shocked by the flavor boost from a small amount MSG. The food doesn’t just taste like it has more salt; it tastes more flavorful in general.
- Read food labels. Don’t – I repeat, don’t – rely on taste. It’s a terrible indicator of sodium content and has tricked many, many people. Who would have guessed that a 1/2-cup serving of instant chocolate pudding packs more than double the sodium as an ounce of salted peanuts? And various brands will differ as well, so compare packages in the supermarket.
- Take a peak at restaurant nutrition facts. Plenty of restaurants now have them, so take advantage. Again, make no assumptions about taste in supermarket items or restaurant foods.
- Kindly make special requests. The following menu descriptors hint at high sodium levels: pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, soy sauce, miso and teriyaki sauce. But these do not guarantee that a food has sky-high sodium levels, and they may indeed be among the better choices. It’s smart to chat with your server or chef. And it’s perfectly okay to kindly ask a chef to put a sauce on the side or to use a light hand when salting a dish.
There’s more good news here. Your tastes will change over time, so ease into lower sodium foods and cooking techniques. Search for healthy recipes and get experimenting in your own kitchen. You’ll find that it’s not that hard to eat less salt.
Please share if you have another favorite tip to reduce salt from your diet.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.
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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.