You need some sodium from salt to maintain the proper balance of fluids in you body and prevent dehydration. Sodium also helps your nerves and muscles function properly. But too much salt can bring health problems. You can safely create a menu that doesn’t include salt as a spice or condiment and further reduce dietary sodium by eating mostly whole rather than processed foods.
If you're concerned about blood pressure and want to keep it in a healthy range, include no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium in your daily diet. Women over 50 and those with diabetes should also limit sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. If you suffer from kidney disease, liver cirrhosis or congestive heart failure, you may need to limit sodium to even lower levels. You can accomplish this by avoiding processed foods, such as cured meats and canned soup, and high-salt condiments, such as soy sauce. Adding potassium-rich foods like bananas can also help your body rid itself of extra sodium.
If you like cereal for breakfast, use whole grains rather than packaged cereal. A 3/4 cup serving of bran flakes may seem like a healthy choice, but it could contain 220 mg of sodium, depending on the product. Opt for oatmeal, using equal parts rolled oats and nonfat milk, and add cinnamon and unsalted almonds along with with banana slices. If you want eggs for breakfast, season with basil, pepper, hot sauce, onions or garlic rather than salt. If you enjoy muffins, bake them yourself, omitting salt and adding cinnamon, vanilla, poppy seeds or lemon rind. Make a bowl of fruits, such as bananas and blackberries, and top with plain, nonfat yogurt.
At lunch, avoid fast-food and, when you do eat out, ask for entrees without salt and prepared sauces, gravies and salad dressings. Make your own sandwiches with leftover chicken or roasted meat, rather than packaged meats. Season with pepper, mustard or balsamic vinegar. Create a salt-free salad with romaine, green pepper, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and sprouts, topped with grilled chicken slices and a homemade mustard-yogurt dressing. Homemade bean soup, seasoned with pepper, basil and bay leaves, adds potassium and fiber to your diet, but little or no sodium if you use dry beans. If you use canned beans, choose a no-salt variety or rinse with water before use.
At dinner, halibut with a baked sweet potato and spinach salad provides more than a third of the recommended 4,700 milligrams of potassium recommended that helps lower blood pressure, while adding no salt if you don’t season your fish or potato with salt or use a prepared salad dressing. Other salt-free choices include chicken and vegetable curry over brown rice, seasoned with garlic, onion, paprika, cinnamon and curry powder. For a low-salt salad, use spinach, black beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, red peppers, rice and salsa, checking the salsa label for sodium content.
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- Harvard School of Public Health: Food Pyramids and Plates: What Should You Really Eat?
- university of Maryland Medical Center: Sodium in Diet -- Recommendations
- American Dietetic Association; Potassium Power!; Joan Salge Blake; August 2010
- USDA Nutrient Database: Cereals Ready-to-Eat, Bran Flakes, Single Brand
Kathryn Gilhuly is a wellness coach based in San Diego. She helps doctors, nurses and other professionals implement lifestyle changes that focus on a healthy diet and exercise. Gilhuly holds a Master of Science in health, nutrition and exercise from North Dakota State University.