Living Low Sodium – Beyond the Salt Shaker

When medical issues in our family necessitated a switch to a lower sodium diet, we started looking closely at our menus. I had stopped adding salt to my cooking many years ago for a couple of reasons. We didn’t feel that the foods needed it and we thought it was just a better choice for our health. At that point, there was no pressing need, just an awareness of the potential benefits.

When we had to cut back to 1500mg of sodium per day for one of our family members, we felt it was easier to just cook the same for everyone and then we’d all reap the benefits. At first, it sounded pretty simple since not only did I not use salt in the cooking, but the salt shaker was never placed on the meal table either. We felt pretty confident that achieving the 1500mg per day goal would be easy, based on our belief that we were already consuming a lower amount of sodium.

Well, as is the first step in any dietary regimen, we started reading labels and tracking the sodium we would consume in a day. Not surprising is that we learned that we were in fact, consuming far above the 1500mg limit per day. What WAS surprising was where it was coming from! We already knew about some of the things that pack a real sodium wallop such as

  • canned soups
  • ketchup
  • soy sauce
  • salad dressing
  • pre-packaged lunch meat

Another eye opener was the list of things that we never thought might be kicking our low sodium aspirations. Now, we didn’t have a list, of course, but we have gradually built our own after reading all the labels and doing the research. I’ll share several of our favorites later on.

Not everyone knows that sodium occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. You may be tempted, as we were, to consider their sodium content negligible, but you may want to think again. In addition, many processes affect the sodium content of foods, such as canning. Fruits and vegetables are not exempt from this. In general, pork has a higher sodium content than other fresh meats. Processed meats such as sausages and cured meats like bacon, tend to have very high sodium content.

Here are a few examples that surprised us:

  • 100g of raw green peas contain 7mg of sodium. 100g of frozen, unprepared green peas contain 108mg of sodium1
  • 100g of raw beets contain 78mg of sodium, before preparing or processing1
  • 1 slice of your average wheat bread has 151mg of sodium1 – that’s 302mg just in the bread on your sandwich
  • Heinz Tomato Ketchup – 160mg per 1 tbsp serving2
  • Tostitos Salsa, Chunky, Medium – 250 mg per 2 tbsp serving2 So much for using salsa as a ketchup substitute on your burger!
  • Velveeta original cheese slices – 290mg per slice
  • Sargento Cheese, Mild Cheddar, Ultra Thin Slices – 230mg per slice

Some other sources of sodium that people don’t tend to think about are things like adding salt to the cooking water for pasta, potatoes and vegetables or the sodium in the beverages they drink. Check out these shockers we grabbed from the product labels.

  • V8 100% Vegetable Juice, Original – 420mg per 8oz serving
  • Upstate Farms Milk, Intense, Lowfat, Chocolate, 1% – 230mg per 8oz serving
  • 2% white milk – 115mg per 8oz. serving
  • Ocean Spray Juice Drink, Cran-Grape – 80mg per 8oz serving

Individually, some of these don’t sound like much, but you would be surprised at what you consume once you start writing it down! If you break it down, your 1500mg allotment means just 500mg for each meal. If you also eat snacks, you’ll have to go a little lighter on your meals.

Take a look at the examples in our lists above. How about a cheese sandwich on wheat bread with a glass of milk for lunch? We’ll use the Sargento example since it’s lower.

2 slices of bread + 1 slice cheese + 8oz milk = 647mg of sodium!

If you want a little (just 1 tbsp) of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Reduced Fat, with Olive Oil, you better add another 130mg to that total. That gives you a whopping 777mg (not so lucky, is it?) for a lunch that isn’t terribly impressive either!

We have definitely had to make some changes in our lifestyle. With our hectic schedules, buying/cooking everything fresh/from scratch all the time just isn’t an option. Frozen vegetables are a staple for us, so we simply make sure we pair our higher sodium veggies with lower ones to balance them out. We don’t eat too many things out of a can, but we have found a few low sodium alternatives that we use. The following are some of our favorites.

  • Goya Low Sodium Chickpeas
  • Del Monte Diced Tomatoes with No Salt Added
  • Eden Organic Kidney Beans with No Salt Added
  • Wegman’s Sliced Beets with No Salt Added

Some other great substitutes that we’ve found are

  • Garden of Eatin’ No Salt Added Tortilla Chips
  • Use Swiss cheese instead of the higher sodium varieties like provolone and cheddar
  • Wegman’s Fat Free dressings that are also low in sodium
  • Heinz No Salt Added Ketchup
  • Some of the Healthy Choice frozen entrees are low in sodium, but choose carefully because they are few and far between. These are good for ‘dinner for one’ or for lunch at the office.

It was a pretty tough road finding things that everyone could eat. But, after almost 2 years, we have built up a pretty good pantry from which I’m able to cook a nice variety without everyone getting completely bored. I make a mean ‘Nearly Zero Sodium’ taco chili that I’ll be sharing in a future post, so stay tuned! It uses a no sodium taco seasoning that I found online.

1USDA National Nutrient Database
2Individual product packaging for the indicated product.

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