How can I reduce my sodium intake?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
The easiest way to reduce your sodium intake is to decrease consumption of processed and prepackaged foods, as a lot of sodium is used to preserve these products. Most fast foods are also high in sodium. By contrast, fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats and poultry contain very little sodium. If these foods make up most of your diet, you will already have significantly reduced your sodium consumption. When you do buy prepackaged or canned foods, read the label. Foods that you would never describe as "salty" can have an astounding amount of sodium. Processed cheese, preserved meats, many condiments, and some shellfish are very high in sodium, so beware. Often similar products will have surprisingly different sodium levels; many companies now offer "no-sodium" and "low-sodium" variants of their products. Even though you should also cut back on table salt, remember, it is the hidden salt in processed foods that accounts for most of your sodium consumption.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Instead of buying canned soups, try making your own simple versions, like a healthy cream of carrot soup or hearty lentil. If you don’t have the time to cook, purchase canned soups low in sodium.

To lower your overall sodium intake, try seasoning foods with more herbs, both dried and fresh. You’ll rely less on table salt for flavor.

Learn more about the relationship between nutrition and lifestyle choices from Holistic Nutritionist Gillian McKeith, host of the UK's “You are What You Eat” and a guest on “The Dr. Oz Show.”

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Here are some sodium-reducing habits to help you limit your daily exposure to salt:
  • Read labels and identify the sodium per serving
  • Opt for foods that say “low sodium” or “low salt”
  • Replace the salt in the recipe you home cook with savory vegetables, dried or fresh herbs, lemon juice, or salt replacements (AlsoSalt is one example)
  • Take the salt shaker off the table and replace it with a product like Mrs. Dash
  • Drain and rinse canned vegetables and beans
  • Ask your server at restaurants to relay to the chef your desire for low salt or salt free
  • Look for additive free fresh poultry
  • Beware of  salt in non-traditional places like cereals and breads
Emilia Klapp
Nutrition & Dietetics
About 75% of the salt we eat daily comes from processed foods. About 15% comes from cooking, and about 10% comes from natural foods. It’s important to become familiar with reading food labels, especially the “Nutrition Facts” label, in order to reduce your sodium intake. Pay attention to the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Ask yourself how many servings you are eating. If the package contains two servings and you eat the whole box, you are ingesting double the daily percentage values listed on the box. Try not to eat more than 500 mg of sodium per meal. Also, look for foods listed as “no salt added” or that are low in sodium, 140 mg or less per serving.

Sixty-five percent of our daily sodium intake comes from foods purchased outside the home, such as at a supermarket or convenience store. By comparison shopping, you can have more control over your sodium intake. Look at labels and choose brands with the least amount of sodium. Be most aware of the following categories as forty percent of the sodium we eat comes from these processed foods:

  • Breads and rolls   
  • Cold cuts and cured meats   
  • Pizza   
  • Poultry   
  • Soups   
  • Sandwiches  
  • Cheese   
  • Pasta dishes
  • Meat dishes
  • Snacks

Read the labels and look for lower sodium alternatives on the supermarket shelf!

The following are general tips to reduce sodium intake:

Salt should not be used in cooking or at the table.
  • Salt is 40% sodium.
  • 1 level teaspoon of salt contains 2300 milligrams of sodium. Your diet allows 2000 milligrams (mg) for the entire day.
  • Each shake of salt is approximately 200 milligrams of sodium.
Avoid commercially prepared and packaged foods whenever possible. Generally, the more processed a food is, the more sodium it will contain.

Read all labels carefully for sodium content. Pay special attention to serving size and servings per container. Seek out lower sodium versions of traditionally high sodium items by using the guidelines below:

Sodium guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
  • Sodium-free -- less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium -- 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium -- 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium -- usual sodium level is reduced by 25%
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt -- made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself
Use herbs and spices to tempt your taste buds. Watch for and avoid spice and seasoning blends that contain salt.
  • Try commercial blends such as Mrs. Dash or create your own.
  • Use caution with salt substitutes as these often contain other ingredients that could be harmful to your health. Consult with your doctor or dietitian before using.

Reading food labels is an important first step to reducing the sodium in your diet. Nutrients are always listed in the same order on the nutrition label. The nutrition information is provided per serving. Check the serving size listed on the box. Your idea of a typical serving size may be different from what is listed on the label. The nutrition label can help you choose which products are lower in sodium. Try to choose a product with less than 250 mg per serving. Also, remember to be careful when reading advertising. "Sodium free" means that there is less than 5 mg per serving, "very low sodium" means that there is 35 mg or less per serving, "low sodium" means that there is 140 mg or less per serving and "reduced sodium" means that the product has <25% less sodium than the regular version of the product.

To lower your sodium intake, here's what you need to do:
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet with few processed foods.
  • Avoid adding salt to your food while cooking or at the table.
  • Be aware that nearly all the foods you eat contain a little bit of sodium. Examine food labels closely, and keep track of your sodium intake each day.
  • Avoid processed foods, which are typically high in sodium. For example, most canned foods, potato chips, pretzels, crackers, lunch meats, salted nuts and frozen dinners contain a lot of sodium.
  • If you have a water softener, don't use softened water for drinking or cooking water. Water softeners add a significant amount of sodium.
  • Check medication labels. Many over-the-counter medications such as laxatives, pain relievers or heartburn medicine contain sodium. Ask your healthcare provider before you make any medication changes.
  • Use spices or flavorful foods such as onions and garlic to season meals without adding salt. However, watch out for onion salt and garlic salt, which contain sodium.
Too much sodium can result in high blood pressure. Start by reducing the amount of salt you use as a seasoning when you cook, then begin paying attention to how much sodium is in the prepared foods you eat, like canned soup.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.