Low-Sodium Diet

(Low-Salt Diet)

What Is a Low-Sodium Diet?

This food plan limits the amount of salt (sodium) that you take in. It is limited to no more than 2,300 mg (milligrams) per day. This is equal to about 1 teaspoon of table salt.

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. Most people take in much more than they need. High sodium levels can increase blood pressure in some people. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke.

What Foods Are Highest in Sodium?

Sodium comes from more than just table salt. It may be sprinkled over a meal or added during cooking. However, most sodium comes from high sodium foods such as:

  • Fast foods
  • Preserved or processed foods
  • Canned foods
  • Frozen dinners
  • Snack food
  • Packaged starchy foods—like seasoned rice, instant mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese
  • Baking mixes
  • Deli meats and cheeses
  • Sausages and cured or smoked meats

Some simple swaps may help keep you at your daily sodium goal. Choose whole foods when possible. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Read package labels to see sodium levels. You may be surprised at where sodium can hide.

Food Choices on a Low-Sodium Diet

There is a wide selection of safe foods in a low-sodium diet.

Grains

Grains that tend to be low in sodium include:

  • Breads and rolls without salted tops
  • Ready-to-eat and uncooked cereals (with less than 5% Daily Value [DV] for sodium)
  • Muffins
  • Unsalted crackers and breadsticks
  • Low-sodium or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffing
  • Rice, pasta, bulgur, couscous (made without salt)

Be aware of high sodium levels in:

  • Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted tops
  • Quick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixes
  • Regular bread crumbs
  • Instant hot cereals
  • Commercially made rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes

Vegetables and Fruit

All fresh vegetables are good choices. You can also look for:

  • Frozen and canned veggies without added salt
  • Low-sodium vegetable juices

Sodium levels are higher in:

  • Regular canned veggies and juices
  • Sauerkraut
  • Frozen veggies with sauces
  • Commercially made potato and veggie mixes

Fruit are not naturally salty. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruit and fruit juices are low sodium choices.

Dairy

Lower sodium dairy choices include:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Hard cheeses, such as Swiss, cheddar, and Monterey Jack
  • Low-sodium cheeses, such as ricotta, cream cheese, and mozzarella
  • Ice cream

Be aware of higher sodium in:

  • Processed cheese, cottage cheese, cheese spreads, and sauces
  • Buttermilk

Meats and Beans

Preparation of meats and nuts can often add a lot of sodium. Choose:

  • Fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Low-sodium peanut butter
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Unsalted nuts

Limit or stay away from:

  • Smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry—including bacon, cold cuts, frankfurters, sausages, sardines, and anchovies
  • Frozen, breaded meats
  • Salted nuts

Fats and Oils

Look for:

  • Low-sodium or unsalted butter and margarine spreads
  • Low-sodium salad dressings made with oil

Be aware of dressings or flavored oils. They often have high sodium levels.

Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments

Look for:

  • Low-sodium or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, condiments, and snack foods
  • Pepper, herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon, or lime juice
  • Ice cream, sherbet, homemade pie, and pudding without added salt

Limit or avoid:

  • Broth, soups, gravies, and sauces made from instant mixes or other high-sodium items
  • Salted snack foods
  • Olives
  • Meat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars
  • Commercial dessert mixes, cake, pie, instant pudding

Drinks

Sodium found in most drinks is pretty low. It is always a good idea to check nutrition label of flavored drinks, even water mixes.

Tips

  • Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Choose whole foods over processed foods.
  • Read food labels. Look for products marked as:
    • Sodium-free
    • Very low-sodium
    • Low-sodium
    • No added salt
    • Unsalted
  • Skip the salt when cooking or at the table. Use herbs, spices, garlic, and onion to add flavor to foods.
  • Talk to a dietitian for help with meal planning.
RESOURCES:

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
http://www.heartandstroke.ca

REFERENCES:

Guidelines for a low sodium diet. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/guidelines_for_a_low_sodium_diet. Accessed June 17, 2020.

Patient education: dietary and fluid compliance for patients on hemodialysis. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed June 17, 2020.

Last reviewed June 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 1/8/2020