Low Sodium Diet


Sodium controls fluid balance and maintains blood volume and blood pressure*. A diet high in sodium may raise blood pressure and cause fluid retention, resulting in swelling of the legs and feet. Water may also collect around the lungs and lead to shortness of breath.

The average American eats five or more teaspoons of salt each day. This is about 20 times as much as the body needs. In fact, your body needs only one quarter of a teaspoon of salt every day. Salt is found naturally in foods, but a lot of it is added during processing and preparation. Many foods that do not taste salty may still be high in sodium, which can be hidden in large amounts in canned, processed and convenience foods as well as in many foods that are served at fast food restaurants.

If you doctor recommends that you reduce your sodium intake, here are some general guidelines for cutting down the amount of salt in your diet.

  • Special foods are not required for this diet. Eliminating salty foods from your diet and reducing the amount of salt used in cooking are important steps.
  • Many salt free or reduced salt products are available. You may choose low sodium products to replace foods which are not allowed.
  • Salt substitutes may be used with your doctor’s permission.
  • Be creative and season your food with spices, herbs, lemons, oranges, wine and Tabasco sauce. Move the salt shaker off the table.
  • Read ingredient labels to identify foods high in sodium. High sodium food additives include salt, baking powder, brine or other items that say “sodium” such as monosodium glutamate.
  • Eat more home-cooked meals. Foods cooked from scratch are naturally lower in sodium, since you are in control of how much salt is added.
  • Avoid softened water for cooking and drinking since it contains added salt.
  • Avoid medications which contain sodium such as alka seltzer and bromo seltzer.
  • For more information on specific foods, or if you want to actually calculate your daily sodium intake, you might consider reading food labels or use a sodium reference guide.

* Recommended from the University of California San Francisco: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/adult/edu/lowSodiumDiet.php

Low-Sodium Alternatives to Popular Foods

Meats, Poultry, Fish, Legumes, Eggs and Nuts
High-sodium foods:

  • Smoked, cured, salted or canned meat, fish or poultry including bacon, cold cuts, ham, frankfurters, sausage, sardines, caviar and anchovies
  • Frozen breaded meats and dinners, such as burritos and pizza
  • Canned entrees, such as ravioli, spam and chili
  • Salted nuts

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Any fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry and fish
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Low-sodium peanut butter
  • Dry peas and beans (not canned)
  • Low sodium canned fish
  • Drained, water or oil packed canned fish or poultry

Dairy Products
High-sodium foods:

  • Buttermilk
  • Regular and processed cheese, cheese spreads and sauces
  • Cottage cheese

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Milk, yogurt, ice cream and ice milk
  • Low sodium cheeses, cream cheese, ricotta cheese and mozzarella

Breads, Grains and Cereals
High-sodium foods:

  • Bread and rolls with salted tops
  • Quick breads, self-rising flour, biscuit, pancake and waffle mixes
  • Pizza, croutons and salted crackers
  • Prepackaged, processed mixes for potatoes, rice, pasta and stuffing

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Breads, bagels and rolls without salted tops
  • Muffins and most ready-to-eat cereals
  • All rice and pasta, but do not to add salt when cooking
  • Corn and flour tortillas and noodles
  • Low sodium crackers and breadsticks
  • Unsalted popcorn, chips and pretzels

Vegetables and Fruits
High-sodium foods:

  • Regular canned vegetables and vegetable juices
  • Olives, pickles, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables
  • Vegetables made with ham, bacon or salted pork
  • Packaged mixes, such as scalloped or au gratin potatoes, frozen hash browns and tater tots
  • Commercially prepared pasta and tomato sauces

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables without sauces
  • Low sodium canned vegetables, sauces and juices
  • Fresh potatoes, frozen French fries and instant mashed potatoes
  • Low salt tomato or V-8 juice.
  • Most fresh, frozen and canned fruit

High-sodium foods:

  • Regular canned and dehydrated soup, broth and bouillon

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Low sodium canned and dehydrated soups, broth and bouillonHomemade soups without added salt

Fats, Desserts and Sweets
High-sodium foods:

  • Bottled salad dressings, regular salad dressing with bacon bits
  • Salted butter or margarine
  • Instant pudding and cake

Low-Sodium Alternatives:

  • Unsalted butter or margarine
  • Vegetable oils and sodium free salad dressings
  • All desserts made without salt