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Low Sodium Diet


What is a low-sodium diet?

A low-sodium diet limits foods that are high in sodium. Salty foods are high in sodium. 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 to 1,500 mg. Ask your healthcare provider how much sodium you can have each day.

How can I use food labels to choose foods that are low in sodium?

Food labels can help you choose foods that are low in sodium. 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)

Which foods should I avoid?

  • 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 almost 600 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)

Which foods can I include?

The approximate amount of sodium is listed next to each food group. Read the food label to find the exact amount.

  • Bread and cereal: One serving has about 150 mg of sodium.
    • 1 ounce of bread, roll, pita, tortilla, or unsalted crackers
    • ½ cup of ready-to-eat cereals with more than 5% DV of sodium
  • Vegetables and fruits: One serving has about 10 mg.
    • Unsalted fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables
    • 6 ounces of canned tomatoes, tomato or vegetable juice, or tomato sauce with no salt
    • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits
    • Fruit juice
  • Dairy: One serving has about 150 mg of sodium.
    • 1 cup of milk, all types
    • 6 ounces of yogurt
    • 1 ounce of low-sodium cheese
    • 1 ounce of hard cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, Monterey jack, or mozzarella
  • Meat and other protein foods: One serving has about 60 mg of sodium. Some raw meats may have added sodium.
    • 3 ounces of plain meats, fish, and poultry
    • 1 large egg
  • Other foods: Eat small amounts of the foods listed below.
    • ½ cup of ice cream or sherbet
    • Homemade pudding
    • Unsalted nuts
    • 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter or margarine

How can I add flavor to foods without adding salt?

  • Try lemon or lime juice or vinegar to give foods a tart flavor.
  • Use hot peppers or a small amount of hot pepper sauce to add a spicy flavor to foods.
  • Use herbs and spices, such as onions, garlic, and salt-free seasonings to add flavor to foods.

What other guidelines should I follow while I am on a low-sodium diet?

  • Meals from restaurants are often high in sodium. Some restaurants have nutrition information that tells you the amount of sodium in their foods. Ask for your food to be prepared with less, or no salt.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you may use salt substitutes. Some salt substitutes have ingredients that may be harmful if you have certain health conditions.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.