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Low-Sodium Diet

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.


A low-sodium diet

limits foods that are high in sodium (salt). You will need to follow a low-sodium diet if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart failure. You may also need to follow this diet if you have a condition that is causing your body to retain (hold) extra fluid. You may need to limit the amount of sodium you eat in a day to 1,500 to 2,000 mg. Ask your healthcare provider how much sodium you can have each day.

How to use food labels to choose foods that are low in sodium:

Read food labels to find the amount of sodium they contain. The amount of sodium is listed in milligrams (mg). The % Daily Value (DV) column tells you how much of your daily needs are met by 1 serving of the food for each nutrient listed. Choose foods that have less than 5% of the DV of sodium. These foods are considered low in sodium. Foods that have 20% or more of the DV of sodium are considered high in sodium. Some food labels may also list any of the following terms that tell you about the sodium content in the food:

  • Sodium-free: Less than 5 mg in each serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg of sodium or less in each serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or less in each serving
  • Reduced sodium: At least 25% less sodium in each serving than the regular type
  • Light in sodium: 50% less sodium in each serving
  • Unsalted or no added salt: No extra salt is added during processing (the food may still contain sodium)

Foods to avoid:

Salty foods are high in sodium. You should avoid the following:

  • Processed foods:
    • Mixes for cornbread, biscuits, cake, and pudding
    • Instant foods, such as potatoes, cereals, noodles, and rice
    • Packaged foods, such as bread stuffing, rice and pasta mixes, snack dip mixes, and macaroni and cheese
    • Canned foods, such as canned vegetables, soups, broths, sauces, and vegetable or tomato juice
    • Snack foods, such as salted chips, popcorn, pretzels, pork rinds, salted crackers, and salted nuts
    • Frozen foods, such as dinners, entrees, vegetables with sauces, and breaded meats
    • Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and other foods prepared in brine
  • Meats and cheeses:
    • Smoked or cured meat, such as corned beef, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage
    • Canned meats or spreads, such as potted meats, sardines, anchovies, and imitation seafood
    • Deli or lunch meats, such as bologna, ham, turkey, and roast beef
    • Processed cheese, such as American cheese and cheese spreads
  • Condiments, sauces, and seasonings:
    • Salt (¼ teaspoon of salt contains 575 mg of sodium)
    • Seasonings made with salt, such as garlic salt, celery salt, onion salt, and seasoned salt
    • Regular soy sauce, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and most flavored vinegars
    • Canned gravy and mixes
    • Regular condiments, such as mustard, ketchup, and salad dressings
    • Pickles and olives
    • Meat tenderizers and monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Foods to include:

Read the food label to find the exact amount of sodium in each serving.

  • Bread and cereal: Try to choose breads with less than 80 mg of sodium per serving.
    • Bread, roll, pita, tortilla, or unsalted crackers.
    • Ready-to-eat cereals with less than 5% DV of sodium (examples include shredded wheat and puffed rice)
    • Pasta
  • Vegetables and fruits:
    • Unsalted fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables
    • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits
    • Fruit juice
  • Dairy: One serving has about 150 mg of sodium.
    • Milk, all types
    • Yogurt
    • Hard cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, Monterey jack, or mozzarella
  • Meat and other protein foods: Some raw meats may have added sodium.
    • Plain meats, fish, and poultry
    • Eggs
  • Other foods:
    • Homemade pudding
    • Unsalted nuts, popcorn, or pretzels
    • Unsalted butter or margarine

Ways to get less sodium:

If you are used to the flavor of salt, it will take time to get used to low-sodium foods. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create a plan for lowering sodium. The plan will be specific to your needs and your family's needs. You may focus on 1 or 2 changes each week, such as the following:

  • Add spices and herbs to foods instead of salt during cooking. Use salt-free seasonings to add flavor to foods. Examples include onion powder, garlic powder, basil, curry powder, paprika, and parsley. Try lemon or lime juice or vinegar to give foods a tart flavor. Use hot peppers, pepper, or cayenne pepper to add a spicy flavor.
  • Do not keep a salt shaker at your kitchen table. This may help keep you from adding salt to food at the table. A teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. It may take time to get used to enjoying the natural flavor of food instead of adding salt. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use salt substitutes. Some salt substitutes have a high amount of a chemical called potassium chloride. This form of potassium needs to be avoided if you have kidney disease.
  • Choose low-sodium foods at restaurants. Meals from restaurants are often high in sodium. Some restaurants have nutrition information on the menu that tells you the amount of sodium in their foods. If possible, ask for your food to be prepared with less, or no salt.
  • Shop for unsalted or low-sodium foods and snacks at the grocery store. Examples include unsalted or low-sodium broths, soups, and canned vegetables. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables instead. Choose unsalted nuts or seeds or fresh fruits or vegetables as snacks. Read food labels and choose salt-free, very low-sodium, or low-sodium foods. You can also rinse canned vegetables under running water to remove extra sodium before you cook them.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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