Low Sodium Diet – What Have We Learned So Far

Written by Diana - January 3, 2013 6 Comments

My husband has been given a low sodium diet directive due to a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease.  Sodium seems to be a trigger for the attacks, and we’re trying to lower our sodium where we can. We were always what we thought was light on the salt but now we need to go lighter – like 1500 mg to 2000 mg per day total.  So, here’s what we learned so far.  You think it’s easy and some of it has to do with cooking with fresh ingredients, but that’s the easy part.  There are saboteurs in your pantry and fridge that don’t have easy answers.  If you know any tips, put them in the comments.

1. Sodium is sodium is sodium.  While it may seem that sea salt is better for you, the construction of it contains more air and the shape is a little bulkier.  However, when you grind it down, salt is salt is salt and it’s still sodium.

2. Table salt is listed as 2400 mg in one tsp is the commonly accepted amount and the amount that a normal person should stick to for a day’s serving. If you are over 50 that amount drops.  It’s not just for blood pressure, your body doesn’t process sodium as well when you get older, plus your joints will retain water more with the higher sodium.  As a side effect my husband had ankle swelling that went away with the lower sodium.

3. Reading labels is not as easy as it seems since each brand can have major differences in it’s sodium level.

4. If it’s canned, it probably has salt unless it says it doesn’t in big letters. However, we did find cans of San Marzano tomatoes with very little salt and the label didn’t identify it as low sodium. Canned tomatoes, beans and many vegetables contain high amounts of sodium.

5.  Bread, crackers, biscuits, rolls, cakes – all contain salt.   We did find a really bad tasting dry rice flour bread with very little sodium and it was so dry it sucked the moisture out of whatever you put in it.  Plus it crumbled apart in your mouth. I made it into bread crumbs, because we couldn’t use it for sandwiches. Ezekial Bread in the freezer section, has a low sodium bread that although a little on the dry side, works well but is expensive.  The meat is low sodium turkey, or peanut butter, all of which needs to be counted.

6. Sea salt on the label doesn’t always mean it’s high sodium. I know – you think it negates rule number one, but it doesn’t. We’ve found low sodium crackers that say lightly salted.  I think rather than add salt to the ingredients, they are using a salt spray to coat the outside where it first hits your tongue… just a guess but I think that’s how it is happening.

7. Low sodium means – descriptive words like cheesy and bacony are not happening any more.

8. Cheese – darn it contains a lot of sodium with Parmesan being a real no, no.  Parmesan contains about 5oo mg in 1 oz.  Other cheeses are much lower. We’ve found Swiss Cheese  a very bland cheese usually contains the least.  However, you can still make a mac and cheese casserole, just zest it up with a decent pepper relish and some herbs.  If you want to use Parmesan, or a higher sodium cheese use small amounts in a way that counts so that the flavor will hit your tongue instead of being mixed in.

9. Bacon can be eaten – if you watch the sodium levels.  Bacon is brined, but sausage is a big no, no because it has salt added as an ingredient.  You may need to make your own sausage using herbs and spices to boost the taste rather than buying in the market.  Even your friendly butcher adds salt, so unless you can get it specially made, stay away from sausage.

10.  Vegetables contain naturally occurring sodium that should be counted, but don’t give up on them.  Celery, carrots and beets all contain sodium naturally.  These aren’t great amounts, so use them but add it into your sodium level.  Take only a few celery sticks from the veggie tray but more cauliflower.

11.  Speaking of veggie trays – those dips are a killer.  Sour cream is low in sodium but the stuff added in store bought dips are very high in sodium.  Most prepared dips, sauces and dressings are higher in sodium, so think about making your own.  Low fat does not mean low sodium .

12.  Baking soda is high in sodium (sodium bicarbonate), and it is also in baking powder.  I found a baking powder that is low in sodium but I’m not sure it works as well.  We’ll probably live with it, because we have to.  Cake mixes, pancake mixes, biscuits mixes – all higher in sodium.  However, you can try lowering the salt or leaving it out of most cake mixes, pie shells without issue.  Biscuits and breads need the leavening more, and you’ll notice the difference more there.

13.  Going out to dinner is a chore but doable.  I ask for the nutrition packet when I arrive.  While we are waiting to be seated, we can browse through and find something my husband can eat. This can also be researched online.  Most meals are over 1000 mg of sodium without the bread and salad course.  This works for chains more than the individually owned restaurants.  You can ask for alterations and no added sodium at restaurants, but the sauces are probably higher in sodium and owner operated restaurants may not know the level.  Grilled salmon or chicken that hasn’t  been marinaded is a decent choice.  Salads with an oil and vinegar dressing are an option also.

14.  Meat has sodium naturally and it should be counted. Brining is going to up the sodium level quite a bit.  Some meats are worse than others naturally, however that turkey you get from the market can be sky high with the saltwater injections.  We are buying our from the butcher without any added ingredients and Whole Foods has non-injected turkeys.  We are actually buying our own turkey for sandwich meat because even the low sodium sandwich meat can be high.

14.  Good Luck.  People think they use very little sodium – by not cooking with it and only sprinkling it on some foods but unless you do a quantitative assessment, you won’t know how much you are using.  Keep a log and write it down so that you can see what you are actually consuming.  Read every label, and recipe and document it. After you get accustomed to working without sodium, it will become easier to avoid.  An interesting side effect is that you will taste over-salting in everything.  People are so adapted to the higher levels and don’t notice all the salt in their foods. When you lower your level, you will recognize how much sodium is used and how salty food tastes now that you have adapted to the lower level.


Note:  We have adopted a lower sodium diet due to my husband’s disease and our ages.  Sodium occurs naturally and IS necessary for the body so trying to cut it out totally is not recommended. You may want to talk to your physician before adapting to a low sodium diet.  I am not a physician or a nutritionist.  I’m just sharing what we have learned from trying to adapt to a low sodium diet.

Read the Comments

6 Outstanding Responses to "Low Sodium Diet – What Have We Learned So Far"

    tdbarani on January 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve always wondered if I’m getting too much sodium because I do season my food pretty heavily. 1 tsp of salt doesn’t seem like that much! I’ll have to pay more attention to how much I add during cooking instead of just throwing some in. Thanks for the tips.

    PS – Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Guestemail on January 4, 2013 at 6:48 am

    lemon makes a good alternative to salt in salads, beans and some other dishes.

    Dick Logue on January 4, 2013 at 9:04 am

    First let me say, having followed a low sodium diet for 13 years, that you have done a FANTASTIC job of identifying the issues and providing solutions.  I would add just a few comments.

    As far as canned foods, there are some that are relatively easy to find without salt and some that are impossible. Tomato products are pretty available where I live. Both Hunts and Del Monte make a variety of unsalted tomato products, from diced and whole tomatoes to sauce, paste and ketchup.  There is even now an Italian flavored diced tomatoes.  Generally you’ll have more luck with other things if you look in the organic aisle. You should be able to find things like beans and chicken broth there, but you’ll have to pay the extra cost.

    Despite what the “experts” say, you CAN make bread without salt. You can buy a breadmaker for about $60 that will make great homemade bread with almost no time or effort involved and pay for itself quickly.  Just leave the salt out of any recipe you want to use.  You may need to reduce the amount of yeast by about 1/3 to keep the bread from rising too quickly and collapsing on top when it bakes.

    After several years of experimenting with sausage seasonings I discovered Wassi’s Meat Market at http://www.wassis.com. They make salt free versions of their mild and hot breakfast sausage seasoning, mild and hot Italian and Kielbasa. I really like the taste of the breakfast and Italian ones much better than anything I concocted. They do  require a $10 minimum purchase online so you’ll have to buy enough for 50 pounds of sausage. They also have salt free rubs if you are into grilling or smoking.

    There is sodium free baking powder and baking soda available.  The baking powder works great, the soda has been a bit hit or miss.  You may find them in health food or organic food stores or you can get them (and a LOT more low sodium stuff) at Healthy Heart Market online, http://www.healthyheartmarket.com.

    Finding a local butcher is a great idea.  We have one that actually sells meat as cheaply as the chain stores in many cases and you know it’s fresh and unadulterated. Finding chicken and turkey, and increasingly pork, that hasn’t had salty broth added is difficult in most chain groceries.  You can add some of that juiciness they are looking for back with less sodium by getting an injector and injecting low sodium chicken broth yourself.

    Dick Logue
    Webmaster: http://www.lowsodiumcooking.com.

    Diana on January 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm


    You have a fantastic site – thanks for the compliment and the suggestions. My husband was thrilled with the sausage website. He wants to try it out. I’m going to look at some of your recipes.

    Diana on January 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Lemon is a good alternative, acids in general can help out too. Great Idea.

    Diana on January 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Our Neck of the Woods is a nice site. 1 tsp isn’t a lot – plus it’s in everything natural or processed, so keeping track is important. Thanks for stopping by.


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