How to Eat Less Sodium at Restaurants_Low-Sodium Diet

Many people with high blood pressure find that cutting down on sodium lowers their blood pressure. Sodium is linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Sodium is an important mineral that keeps the fluids in our bodies properly regulated. We need about 200-500 milligrams of sodium daily to stay healthy. The recommendation is to eat less than 2400 milligrams. That is about one teaspoon of salt per day. Most Americans, however, consume 2 to 5 teaspoons of salt per day, which adds up to 12,000 milligrams.

Most sodium intake comes from salting food at the table. Ordinary table salt is the most common source of sodium. Table salt is about 40 percent sodium.

To reduce the amount of sodium in your diet:

  • avoid adding salt and canned vegetables to homemade dishes when cooking
  • avoid adding salt at the table
  • avoid processed foods that are high in sodium like bacon, soy sauce, soups, and canned and frozen foods
  • select skim or low-fat milk, low-sodium or low-fat cheeses, as well as low-fat yogurt
  • when dining out, request preparation of your meal without salt

Fresh foods prepared without salt contain enough sodium for the body’s needs. Try to select foods that are labeled reduced-salt. Some luncheon meats, crackers, nuts, and chips have no or low salt options. Avoid fast foods, and if you do eat them, do not add salt. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain very little natural sodium and can be eaten often. Learn to use spices and herbs that do not have salt in them to enhance the flavor of your food. Lemon or lime juice and vinegar can help brighten up the taste of foods. When people begin to lower the salt in their diet, their taste begins to change. After a while, food begins to taste better without salt than it did with it.

Many foods have a natural sodium content. Read the labels when you buy packaged foods. Look for different sodium compounds that are added to foods. Watch for the words on labels that identify sodium ingredients. These include “sodium” and sodium’s symbol, “Na” which is a capital “N” with a small “a.” Some drugs even have large amounts of sodium in them. Always read the labels for over-the-counter drugs. When in doubt, ask a pharmacist, or your healthcare provider, if the drug is one you can use.

People with kidney problems, or who are taking medicines, should check with their healthcare provider before using “salt substitutes.” Potassium chloride is found in many salt substitutes. Too much potassium can be harmful to some people.

Reducing sodium in your diet is only one part of a comprehensive approach to lowering blood pressure. Other factors include preventing and treating obesity, limiting alcohol intake, and adequate intake of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Health authorities have long been warning Americans to slash the sodium in our diets. Yet with restaurant meals and processed foods growing in popularity, the low-sodium diet remains elusive. Many of us are consuming more sodium than ever — and not just from the salt shaker.

In fact, 3/4 of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, says Columbia University researcher Wahida Karmally, DrPH, RD. And the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest recently announced that 85 out of 102 meals found at popular restaurant chains contained more than a full day’s worth of sodium. Some of the meals had four days’ worth of sodium.

Most U.S. adults consume the equivalent of 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt or 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s about 1/2 teaspoon more than the daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

But the CDC says 70% of Americans should be getting no more than 1,500 milligrams daily. Government guidelines say that anyone who is over 40, has high blood pressure, or is African-American should cut their daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day, equal to about two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt. And the American Medical Association has called for food manufacturers to reduce sodium in foods by 50% over the next 10 years.

So how do you go about moving toward a more low-sodium lifestyle? One of the best places to start, experts say, is with restaurant meals.

How to Follow a Low-Sodium Diet When Eating Out

Since even unprocessed foods like milk have small amounts of sodium, it’s tough to figure out exactly how much sodium you’re consuming. Eating out makes things even more difficult, since it’s hard to know how foods were prepared.

Some the worst restaurant offenders are fast-food outlets and so-called “fast casual” restaurants, says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, a personal chef and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

“Fast-food and fast-casual restaurants have little control over the food because they simply assemble it” rather than cooking from scratch, she says. “So it is harder to request less sodium, other than checking the web site or asking for a brochure in search of lower-sodium options.”

Asian restaurants like Japanese, Thai, and Chinese also tend to serve high-sodium cuisine, since they use lots of sauces, chicken stock, and soups. Likewise, Italian restaurants often rely on high-sodium canned tomato products for their red sauces and use plenty of sodium-laden cheese.

If these are some of your favorite restaurants, Krieger suggests ordering foods as plain as possible and using portion control.