How can I reduce salt in my diet?

Benjamin T. Cohen, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
It can be a challenge to avoid excessive salt in your diet, says Ben Cohen, MD, a cardiologist at West Hills Hospital. In this video, he says that avoiding processed foods and eating fresh and local items can make a big difference.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Diets high in salt are linked to higher blood pressure. To keep your blood pressure under control, eliminate hidden salt traps from your diet. Excess sodium can often come from surprising sources -- the CDC’s newest findings reveal bread as the number one source of salt in our diets! In addition to bread, be mindful of these seven words on food labels that reveal hidden sources of salt:
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Smoked
  • Barbecued
  • Pickled
  • Baking soda
You should never consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt a day. I recommend staying under 1,500 mg, especially if you’re older than 50.
Enas Shakkour
Nutrition & Dietetics
Avoid dressings, ketchup, and soy sauce. Stay away from salty soups. Choose the low-sodium kinds. When buying canned items rinse out the vegetables with water before using the vegetables. Use fresh vegetables or frozen vegetables. Don't use the salt shaker. Spice up your meals with spices. Spices have no sodium and are full of antioxidants. Try to prepare your own meals without adding salt and avoid frozen meals. Frozen meals tend to have a high concentration of sodium.
Eating a diet low in sodium helps lower blood pressure, and therefore, heart disease risk. It may seem like a difficult goal at first to limit salt intake, but sodium is an acquired taste: with persistence, it is possible to become accustomed to the taste of lower sodium foods.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (or DASH) diet is a famous heart-healthy eating plan. It was developed from research to determine what combination of foods helps to lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. One part of the study compared various sodium levels to see if blood pressure was affected. The results were dramatic and showed that the lower the intake of sodium, the lower the blood pressures were for participants.

A daily intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium is recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease. This may seem drastic to most Americans, who generally consume more than 3,000 milligrams per day. Committing to a plan to lower your salt intake over time can help your taste buds readjust to the flavors of food without high-salt content. In reducing your salt intake, be sure to follow your physician’s recommendations if you have cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind processed, convenience foods generally have more sodium. And chances are they have more saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, which are more reasons to avoid them.

Follow these general tips to help you reduce your sodium intake:
  • Try limiting meals to 400 to 500 milligrams of sodium or less.
  • Try aiming for 200 milligrams of sodium or less at snack time.
  • Put away the saltshaker. Replace it with any sodium-free spice mix, which you can keep on the table or at the stove.
  • Add flavor to foods with roasted garlic, caramelized onion, fresh herbs, citrus, wine, fruit juices and homemade chicken stock. 
  • Avoid canned foods, unless choosing a product specifically made without sodium, such as fruits, some salt-free vegetables or tomato products.
  • Limit processed convenience foods such as frozen meals and pizzas.
  • Avoid frozen vegetables with sauces.
  • Try to eat out only once per week or even less often.
  • Limit fast foods, especially fried foods.
  • Limit cheeses; choose Swiss cheese for its low sodium content.
  • Limit commercially baked items such as breads, cakes, cookies, etc.
Limit condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and marinades.
Joane Goodroe

Salt is “hidden” in many of the foods we eat. The best way to decrease salt intake is not to add any salt to your food, decrease the amount of pre-made, processed food you eat and decrease the amount of times you eat at restaurants. 

Dr. Doris Day, MD
Limit your use of processed and packaged food when you cook. Of course, your body does need some salt, but not much more than the equivalent of about a teaspoonful or less. Take a trip through your supermarket and read the ingredients lists on the labels of canned soups and vegetables, crackers and cereals, bread, processed cheese, canned tuna fish and salmon, cake mixes, frozen dinners, and so on down the aisles. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your intake of sodium could zoom far above what you really need. The solution is to rely mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh cuts of fish and poultry and meat, and unprocessed cheeses. Then cook with herbs and spices instead of salt.

Avoid fast food establishments that offer only heavily salted fare. In other restaurants, ask that your food be prepared without salt. If you choose a dish such as marinated beef or cajun chicken, ask whether the chef will be able to make it without salt. If the answer is no, go back to the menu and make another selection. When you wake up the next morning without unsightly bags under your eyes, you’ll be glad you made a salt-free choice for dinner the evening before!

Continue Learning about Sodium

Which processed foods are the highest in sodium?
Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDJoan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Cold cuts, cured meats and soups have a history of being notoriously high in sodium, but surprisingl...
More Answers
What foods can I eat if I'm on a low sodium diet?
Brigham and Women's HospitalBrigham and Women's Hospital
Here is a list of foods that you can eat if you are on a low sodium diet: Bread, cereals, and gra...
More Answers
How Much Salt In the Diet Is Too Much?
How Much Salt In the Diet Is Too Much?
Is It OK to Stop Worrying About Salt and High Blood Pressure?
Is It OK to Stop Worrying About Salt and High Blood Pressure?

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.