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Low-salt diet

 

Alternate Names

Low-sodium diet; Salt restriction

Salt and Your Diet

Your body needs salt, also called sodium, to work properly. Sodium helps your body control your blood pressure, blood volume, muscles and nerves, and more. But, too much salt can be bad for you.

If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, your doctor may advise you to limit how much salt you eat every day. Salt is measured in milligrams (mg), and your doctor may tell you to eat no more than 2,300 mg a day when you have these conditions. For some people, 1,500 mg a day is an even better goal.

Limiting Salt in Your Diet

Eating a variety of foods every day can help you limit the amount of salt you are getting. Try to eat a balanced diet.

Buy fresh vegetables and fruits whenever possible. They are naturally low in salt. Canned foods often contain sodium to preserve the color of the food and keep it looking fresh. For this reason, it is better to buy fresh foods when you can. Also buy:

  • Fresh meats, chicken or turkey, and fish
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits

Look for these words on labels: low-sodium, sodium-free, no salt added, sodium-reduced, or unsalted. Check all labels for how much salt or sodium foods contain per serving. Also, avoid foods that list salt near the beginning of the list of ingredients, since ingredients are listed in order of amount the food contains. A product with less than 100 mg of salt per serving is good.

See also: How to read food labels

Stay away from foods that always are high in sodium. Some common ones are:

  • Processed foods, such as cured or smoked meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage, bologna, ham, and salami
  • Anchovies, olives, pickles, and sauerkraut
  • Soy and Worcestershire sauces, tomato and other vegetable juices, and most cheeses
  • Many bottled salad dressings and salad dressing mixes
  • Most snack foods, such as chips, crackers, and others

When you cook, replace salt with other seasonings, such as pepper, garlic, herbs, and lemon. Avoid packaged spice blends, since they often contain salt. Use garlic and onion powder, not garlic and onion salt. Do not eat foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG).

When you go out to eat, stick to steamed, grilled, baked, boiled, and broiled foods with no added salt, sauce, or cheese. If you think the restaurant might use MSG, ask them not to add it to your order.

  • Use oil and vinegar on salads, and add fresh or dried herbs.
  • Eat fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert, when you have dessert.
  • Take the salt shaker off your table and replace it with a salt-free seasoning mix.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist what antacids and laxatives contain little or no salt, if you need these medicines. Some have a lot of sodium in them.

If you have a water softener in your house, do not drink your tap water. Drink bottled water instead. It is salt that softens your water.

Ask your doctor if a salt substitute is safe for you. Many of them contain a lot of potassium. This may be harmful if you have certain medical conditions or if you are taking certain medicines.

References

Hunt SA; American College of Cardiology; American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Update the 2001 Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of Heart Failure). ACC/AHA 2005 guideline update for the diagnosis and management of chronic heart failure in the adult: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Update the 2001 Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of Heart Failure). J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005 Sep 20; 46(6):e1-82


Review Date: 12/13/2008
Reviewed By: Larry A. Weinrauch MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cardiovascular Disease and Clinical Outcomes Research, Watertown, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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