How to cut back on sodium


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Just because you don't reach for the salt shaker doesn't mean you aren't consuming too much sodium. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), most of us are eating much more sodium than we need. Did you know that more than 75% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods? It's hard to track something that's added to our food before we even buy it, so the AHA has set out some helpful tips.


When you go grocery shopping:

  • Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find in your store. You might be surprised that different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.
  • Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 milligrams (mg) or less per 4-ounce serving.
  • Choose condiments carefully. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be sky-high in sodium. Look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.
  • Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces. When you add these to a casserole, soup or other mixed dish, there will be so American Heart Associationmany other ingredients involved that you won’t miss the salt.
  • Look for products with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to find foods that can be part of an overall healthy dietary pattern. Heart-Check is not a low-sodium program and the Heart-Check mark is not necessarily a sign that a product is “low-sodium,” but it does mean that the food meets AHA’s sodium criteria to have the Heart-Check mark. You can eat foods with varying amounts of sodium and still achieve a balanced and heart-healthy diet. To learn more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program, visit www.heartcheck.org.


When you prepare food:

  • Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to foods.
  • Drain and rinse canned beans (like chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.) and vegetables — this can cut the sodium by up to 40%.
  • Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods right now, try combining them in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. You’ll get less salt and probably won’t notice much difference in taste. This works especially well for broths, soups and tomato-based pasta sauces.
  • Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt. You’re likely going to add other flavorful ingredients to these foods, so you won’t miss the salt.
  • Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sautéing to bring out the natural flavors in foods — that will reduce the need to add salt.
  • Incorporate foods with potassium, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes and lower-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, nonfat yogurt, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe. Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.


When you eat at a restaurant:

  • Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt.
  • Taste your food before adding salt. If you think it needs a boost of flavor, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken and vegetables.
  • Watch out for foods described using the words pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso or teriyaki sauce. These tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted may have less sodium.
  • Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium too. Ask if smaller portions are available or share the meal with a friend. Or, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
  • Ask about the sodium content of the menu items. A new law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including sodium content, to customers upon request.


In December 2015, the AHA launched a campaign encouraging people to kick their salt habit in just 21 days. It's never too late to get started. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and prepare to transform your taste buds, learn to enjoy foods with more moderate levels of sodium and feel less bloated. What's not to love? We're all counting on you.

American Heart Association