What's the Best Way to Limit Salt in My Diet?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What's the best way to limit salt in my diet?

Expert Answer

Carolyn Strimike, N.P. and Margie Latrella, N.P. are cardiac nurse practitioners specializing in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. They have over 40 years of nursing experience in Cardiology between them. The main goal of their work is to counsel, motivate and empower women to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.

It's all about reading labels. Lowering sodium is one of the easiest lifestyle changes you can make to lower blood pressure, but it takes time to check the sodium content of everything you buy. And be aware: Sodium can be listed as sodium benzoate or sodium citrate. Whatever extra words are attached, it's still salt.

When you go to the grocery store, bring your reading glasses and plan to be there a while. You also might need to do some simple math to take portion sizes into account. So if a can of soup says it serves two but you're eating the whole can, then you're getting double the sodium listed.

For most of us, cutting down on salt is a fairly big undertaking, because the recommendation for sodium is 2,400 milligrams a day if you're healthy, and 2,000 milligrams a day if you have high blood pressure. But the average American is eating 5,000 to 10,000 milligrams of sodium a day. So you're trying to make a substantial change.

The biggest sources of sodium are canned and processed foods, cheese, and lunch meats, like ham. That's where you can make the biggest difference. But you don't have to give up foods you like; low-sodium varieties or substitutions are available in most cases. There are even low-sodium hot dogs now.

You may have to try more than one store to find a good variety of low-sodium foods. And for items like low-sodium cheeses and deli meats, you may need to go to specialty stores. If you find one brand you like, remember it for the future. It might help to write down a list of low-sodium foods and brands you like and keep it in your wallet for shopping trips. You can also shop online for low-sodium prepared foods.

Sadly, ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, salad dressing, and many other high-flavor condiments contain tons of sodium. So you'll have to find other ways to flavor foods such as burgers, which can be tricky. There's low-sodium soy sauce available, and you can make your own low-sodium ketchup, mustard, and salad dressings.

Of course, it's easier to use less salt when you cook yourself. You can buy spice blends (such as the Mrs. Dash brand) designed to replace salt and still add flavor to foods. Meals on Wheels and other meal providers will prepare low-salt meals if you ask them in advance.

One more thing we tell people is to increase the amount of potassium you eat, because the body excretes fluid more efficiently when it has plenty of potassium. Oranges, broccoli, and bananas are good sources of potassium.