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Understanding sodium and low-salt cooking

What is sodium?

Your salt intake

Most Americans consume 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium a day.

The recommended intake is 2,400 milligrams a day.

Sodium is a compound found widely in nature and in foods. Many foods contain sodium naturally, but do not taste salty.

One teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 milligrams of sodium – and a low-sodium diet allows 2,000 milligrams a day!

Eating high amounts of sodium can be especially harmful if you have heart failure. When you have heart failure, your heart cannot pump as well as it once did.

Sodium causes your body to retain, or hold, more water. This increases the work of your heart as it pumps blood through your body.

Special low-sodium cooking tips

There are a few simple things you can do to reduce the sodium in your diet.

  • Try new seasonings. Herbs and spices don’t contain sodium. Experiment with flavored vinegar, sherry, wine and lemon juice. Parsley, thyme, and basil are easy to grow and flavorful in many foods.
  • Throw out your salt shaker. At the very least, get it off the kitchen table!
  • Reduce or eliminate salt in cooking. Many recipes don't need salt – leave it out! If salt is important to the flavor of the food, reduce the salt amount gradually (by a fourth, then by a half, and then by three-fourths).
  • Cut back on processed foods (such as luncheon meats, TV dinners) – they already contain salt.
  • Eliminate salty foods: pickles, olives, sauerkraut, salted snacks, flavored salts, seasoned salts.
  • Avoid products with these words on the labels: monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate.
  • Read labels to see how much sodium per serving a food product contains. Then, compare that to the amount that your health care team recommended. You may be able to include this food in your eating plan if you reduce your serving size.
  • Use bouillon granules in half the amount called for on packaging; they contain a high amount of sodium. Use lower sodium bouillon granules.
  • Use lemon and lime juices or tomatoes to add zest to meat, salads, vegetables and fruits.
  • Save cooking liquid from vegetables to use in place of water in sauces and gravy.
  • Add drinking wine to sauces and gravies to add flavor.  Avoid cooking wines – they contain salt.
  • Replace garlic/onion salt with garlic/onion powder.
  • Rinse canned vegetables to remove some of the sodium (about one-third). To reduce more sodium, use fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables.

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Source: Allina Patient Education, Your Guide to Sodium Content in Foods, nutr-ahc-93416
Reviewed by: Allina Patient Education experts
First Published: 05/01/2005
Last Reviewed: 06/01/2007