If you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet, you’ve likely been told to include more low sodium foods. You might even already be on a low sodium diet. The truth is, we could all benefit from paying close attention to the sodium content in the foods we eat.
Thankfully, there are lots of delicious, low sodium foods to choose from. But before we get into that… let’s take a look at WHY we should pay attention to sodium content.
What are the Side Effects of Too Much Sodium?
By far, the biggest source of sodium is table salt. One teaspoon of salt packs a whopping 2,300mg of sodium. That’s the entire recommended daily amount! While sodium is an important mineral, it can lead to problems if you consume too much of it in the foods you eat.
You’ve likely heard that a high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure – but did you know it can also cause a great deal of strain on your kidneys? It’s true – and this strain can make it harder for your kidneys to do their job of removing waste from your body.1
Are There Any Healthy Sodium Alternatives?
While you may not be able to salt your meal while on a low-sodium diet, there are some tasty – and healthy – alternatives.
Now, keep in mind – when you start a low-sodium diet, you’ll likely notice a change in taste. Food may taste a bit blander.
Fortunately, many herbs and spices can work as salt-free seasonings. These include:
Whatever option you choose, be sure you look at the ingredients on food labels to check sodium content. (Keep in mind that sea salt usually contains high levels of sodium also – so always check the label!)2
High Sodium Foods to Avoid
Surprisingly, there are plenty of high sodium foods that don’t necessarily taste salty. These include cheese, chicken, tacos, and some breads. Of course, salty snacks are loaded with sodium. Pretzels and other packaged foods also tend to have a lot of sodium.3 Thankfully, though, there are many types of unsalted snacks available.
Olives are considered by many people to be healthy, but they’re actually high in sodium (470mg in a serving of three olives).4 The reason is they’re typically packed in salty brine. Interestingly, olive oil has nearly no sodium.5
Canned soups are also high in sodium content. Some of the more popular soups in the grocery store are packed with salt.6 If you love soups as part of your diet, you might want to consider low-sodium broth instead.
Whole milk is also relatively high in sodium – but skim milk has more.7,8 The amount of sodium in milk will vary between brands, so be sure to check labels carefully.
Is MSG Healthy?
You’ve probably heard of a substance known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG. It’s commonly used as a flavor additive in luncheon meats and other packaged foods – and it’s also low in sodium content.9
But is MSG good for you? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it safe. However, there have been reports of people suffering issues such as nausea and headaches after eating foods containing MSG – so proceed with caution if you’re planning to eat something containing MSG.10
Healthy Low Sodium Foods
If you’re going on a low-sodium diet, you’ll have to stop eating fast food and a lot of unhealthy snack foods. But there are a lot of healthy low-sodium foods you can find at your local grocery store. Again, though, make sure at the nutrition facts label before putting anything in your shopping cart.
Brown rice offers many health benefits. It can help support healthy blood sugar levels, and may even help keep cholesterol in check.11
Quinoa is one of the healthier grains. It’s low in sodium and high in fiber and protein.12 If you’re managing your weight, consider adding quinoa to your diet – the fiber will help you stay full after eating.13
Meat from grass-fed cattle is great for a low-sodium diet. Not only is it packed with protein – but it’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids provide several health benefits, including helping to support heart health.14
(Just be careful if you choose to use a seasoned meat tenderizer. These spice blends are often high in sodium content, so look for sodium-free alternatives instead.15)
Potatoes are naturally low in sodium.16 Keep in mind, though – while potatoes themselves have low sodium content, most of us don’t eat them that way. If you add butter and other toppings to baked potato, you’re adding a lot of sodium. Try using unsalted butter instead, or skip the butter completely.
Hash browns are among the most popular potato-based dishes. Unfortunately, this breakfast meal staple is loaded with sodium – so check the ingredient label, and opt for one low in added salt.17
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits low in sodium include apples, oranges, and bananas.18 Bananas provide the added benefit of being high in potassium, which offers several health benefits.19
Fresh vegetables are also typically low in sodium. If you need to add some seasoning to your vegetables, try using fresh herbs or salt-free spice blends. Tomatoes and tomato juice are low in sodium – just be careful when buying processed tomato-based products, as many of them are loaded with sodium.20,21
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is not only low in sodium, but also high in omega-3s. Omega-3s may be particularly useful for people trying to lose weight, as they’ve been shown to support healthy metabolism. Some experts even believe these fatty acids can support healthy cognitive function, though more research is needed on the subject.22
Ditch the Salt
If you’re looking for a way to incorporate more low sodium foods into your diet, remember – always check the ingredient label. (You’d be surprised which foods are “hiding” a ton of salt!) Overall, you’ll find that there are plenty of low sodium alternatives out there. It’s all about doing your research – and finding what works best for you.
One final note: Always talk to your doctor before you make any major changes to your diet. He or she will know what’s best for your individual needs.
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15 https://www.eatthismuch.com/food/nutrition/meat-tenderizer,127026/ 16 https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11362