If you are on a salt free or low salt diet you have discovered how difficult grocery shopping and meal preparation can be. Your doctor told you to reduce or eliminate salt in your diet. Your initial thought is you could simply stop using the salt shaker, but soon discover that salt is really called sodium. You start reading the nutrition facts labels on food packages and wonder how you are going to cut salt out of your diet when it’s in everything you eat. Here is what you need to know about sodium in food.
Sodium (aka Salt) Facts
- Salt is the common name for sodium chloride.
- The nutrition facts panels on packaged foods use the word sodium so you may not have been aware that salt is actually listed as sodium.
- Dietary sodium is measured in milligrams (mg). One teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 mg of sodium.
- Don’t be fooled. Sea salt, Kosher salt, and other designer salts contain the same amount of sodium as ordinary table salt.
- Count the milligrams of sodium in everything you eat including condiments and write it all down. Your doctor probably gave you a target maximum number of milligrams you should consume per day. If not, the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends consumption of no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, which advises the U.S. government about recommended levels of nutrients, is more conservative and offers this guideline as an adequate intake of sodium per day: Ages 19-50: 1,500 mg per day. Ages 51-70: 1,300 mg per day. Ages 70+: 1,200 mg per day.
- Packaged foods are required to have a nutrition panel on the label. Always read food labels and do the math. The sodium content on the nutrition panel is based on the number of servings the package states. Example: a can of soup may say 770 mg of sodium but bases that number on 2.5 servings. 770 x 2.5 = 1,925 mg of sodium in that can of soup.
- Read the list of ingredients on packaged foods, not just the nutrition panel, for sodium-containing compounds such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Look for sodium in words, such as monoSODIUM glutamate (MSG).
- Sodium is prevalent in most processed foods. Health experts claim at least 75% of the salt we eat is hidden in packaged food. Simply claiming you don’t use salt, meaning you don’t sprinkle it on your food, is living in denial.
Recognize which foods are high in sodium and take control of what you eat.
- De-emphasize the use of processed foods where salt is used to excess.
- Convenience foods may be convenient, but are laden with sodium. By convenient I mean, if the food is packaged in a box or can and is easy to eat or quick to prepare, it’s probably laden with salt. The same for frozen one step meals like frozen dinners, appetizers, and pizza.
- Fat Free actually means “Way Too Much Salt.” Any label on a package that claims their food is fat free, in my opinion, should be required to state, “We took the fat out. Now our food has no taste, so we poured in extra salt to give it flavor!”
- The following foods have a lot of salt in them: canned soups, chili, salad dressings, pasta sauces, gravies, broths, sauces and marinades. Many brands of canned soup and chili have more sodium in each can than you should consume in an entire day. If you must eat them, compare different brands and choose the one with the lowest sodium content.
- Any packaged food that comes with a sauce, such as frozen vegetables in butter sauce, usually has too much sodium.
- Cut back on instant flavored rice or pasta. If you open the package and there is a seasoning packet inside, it is a good bet that the sodium content is very high.
- Pay attention to the sodium content of your favorite condiments, particularly meat tenderizer, steak sauce, soy sauce, salsa, and catsup.
- Avoid gravy and seasoning mixes in those foil lined pouches.
- Avoid ham, bacon, sausage, and lunch meat.
- Many varieties of cheese contain a high sodium content.
- Bread and baked goods have a high sodium content.
- Avoid salty snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips, salted nuts, olives, and pickles.
- These terms indicate high sodium content: pickled, smoked, marinated, teriyaki, soy sauce, broth, au jus.
- There are no good choices at fast food restaurants. Ordering a salad may appear to be the healthy choice, but most salad dressings contain an exorbitant amount of sodium.
- We need sodium in our diet to be alive, but very little. Health experts claim 220 mg to 500 mg per day is sufficient.
- Cook from scratch. Know the sodium content in each of the ingredients used to prepare a meal or snack.
- Use a kitchen scale. Calculate the weight of food to determine the sodium count. As an example, a skinless chicken breast has approximately 20 mg of sodium per ounce. Your chicken breast weighs 3.5 ounces = 70 mg of sodium. You’ll love having a scale.
- Throw away your salt shaker. Use sodium free AlsoSalt salt substitute at the table to season your food. You can have the flavor of salt without the harmful effects of sodium.
- Cook and bake with AlsoSalt using it wherever salt is called for in a recipe.
- Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
- Choose fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt.
- You can easily make your own chili, taco, and meat loaf mixes.
- Use a bread machine and make your own bread with low sodium and sodium free ingredients.
- Rinse canned foods, such as vegetables and tuna to remove some sodium.
- When available, buy low or reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of foods. These foods are generally quite bland, but you can add AlsoSalt to replace the salty flavor.
- Search for low sodium foods on the Internet. When you find products of interest, check to find where they are available in your area. Websites usually have a page that tells you which stores carry their products.
- Use the Internet as a tool to search for low sodium foods and make your grocery list. Write down the food product, the name of the manufacturer, and the sodium content of each item. This is so much easier and less frustrating than standing in the grocery aisle reading labels on hundreds of choices trying to determine which one has the lowest sodium content.
- Mainstream grocery stores are not yet convinced they need low sodium products on their shelves. Talk to your store manager and tell them you need more low sodium food choices.
- Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are low in sodium.
- Worth Repeating: Cook from scratch! Food in its natural state has enough sodium to give you what your body requires.
Joan Watsabaugh is the CEO of AlsoSalt, LLC. A true scientific breakthrough, AlsoSalt offers the taste of salt without the adverse health risks of sodium. It is completely sodium free without the bitter aftertaste other salt substitutes have. You can cook and bake with AlsoSalt or simply sprinkle it over food. Plus, it has the added dietary benefit of nutrients which are essential to good health. http://www.alsosalt.com/