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How do I cut down on sodium?

Although it is difficult to abruptly cut back on the amount of sodium in the diet, most people find that their taste adjusts quickly to reduced sodium if they cut back gradually. Fresh herbs, spice blends without sodium, citrus, and flavored vinegar make tasty alternatives to the salt shaker. Salt is an acquired taste, and taste buds can be retrained in less than one to two weeks if people stick with the lower-sodium diet.

It may be helpful to keep a detailed food record and add up sodium intake. Within a short period of time (less than a week), the main sources of sodium can be identified, and daily intake can be calculated.

Suggestions to decrease sodium include the following:

  • Put away the salt shaker and reduce or eliminate salt in cooking. Experiment with spices, garlic, onions, or lemon instead.
  • Look for low-sodium products such as spice blends and read labels on canned, bottled, and frozen foods.
  • Make a list of healthy low-sodium foods to substitute. Many grocery stores now supply this information.
  • When dining out, request the food be prepared without salt, have dressings or sauces on the side, and avoid bacon bits, cheese, and croutons at the salad bar.
  • Do not add salt to food while cooking or before eating. Teach family members to taste food before adding salt.
  • Avoid eating at fast food restaurants. If this is not possible, choose restaurants that offer fruits or vegetables without sauces or dressings. Ask that no salt be used to prepare food, when possible.
  • Do not use salt substitutes (especially those high in potassium) unless a healthcare provider approves. Herb and spice combinations that are salt free are widely available and can be used to flavor foods.
  • Water softeners remove calcium and add sodium to drinking water. Do not drink softened water. When purchasing bottled water, check the label to ensure that it does not contain sodium.
  • Look at labels for over-the-counter medications.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally low in sodium. In addition, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides additional benefits in lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a well-known intervention to treat high blood pressure. The DASH diet requires the person to eat four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, and two to three servings of low-fat dairy, and all foods must contain less than 25 percent total fat per serving.