• Bari Stricoff, MSc, RDN

10 Tips To Lower Your Sodium Intake

Sodium intake is always a hot topic and often found at the forefront of practitioner’s recommendations. Too much of anything is never a good idea, especially when it comes to sodium! Prolonged excess sodium intake is quite detrimental – it can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, osteoporosis and kidney disease. Some evidence even suggests that increased salt consumption and/or salty foods may be linked to an increase in stomach cancer.

However, the salt shaker may not be the only one to blame. Packaged, prepared, ready-to-eat and restaurant meals are often extremely high in sodium, when compared to home cooked meals. High sodium contents are found in salad dressings, seasonings, sauces, gravies, taco mixes, sandwiches, cheese, packaged and prepared meat, poultry and seafood products, soups, etc.

Before you vow to never digest salt again, it should be noted that it is also imperative for your health. Sodium helps balance electrolytes, fluid balance and hydration. The UK dietary recommendation for sodium is about 2.4 g sodium (6g salt) - (US recommendation is 2.3g or 2300mg). However, those with high blood pressure or other health issues may be advised by their doctor or dietitian to cut their sodium to as little as 1.2g-1.8g. ALWAYS consult your doctor/dietitian before starting a new diet regime.

Top 10 tips to lower sodium content

1. Read food labels: Always read the label, and when you can, opt for “low sodium”, “reduced sodium” or “sodium free” labels. Sodium is often hidden in foods you may not expect – so always have a little look just to see what you’re about to consume! You may also want to compare the food labels of several different brands to ascertain which will be the best for you and your desired sodium intake!

2. Home cooked meals: when you cook from scratch, you have the power to add as much, or as little, salt as you desire. Restaurant chefs often say the most common mistake for home chef’s is how they “under-salt” their food. However, in my opinion, that is a positive thing!

3. Experiment with herbs, spices, and citrus: all of which, have 0 sodium (spices do not include pre-made spice mixes!). Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro and parsley offer plenty of flavour! Especially when combines with spices such as cumin, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, and chilli powder. And my favourite is not just the juice of citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, but also their zest! The zest packs a big punch and can elevate the flavours of a meal!

4. Rinse your beans: always pour your beans into a strainer and run them under cold water before eating! This helps rinse off any excess sodium! Or, better yet, buy dried beans and soak them yourself to avoid any excess sodium.

5. Make your own salad dressings and marinades: store-bought salad dressings and marinades often have high sodium levels. Make your own dressings with vinegar, olive oil, lemon, and even a dash of Dijon mustard! As for marinades, my favourite way to prepare my chicken thighs is with a garlic & herb marinade: 2 cloves garlic, 2 TBS chopped parsley, 1 TBS chopped thyme, 1 TBS chopped rosemary, zest of ½ lemon, and juice of ½ lemon! So fresh and delicious!

6. Sandwich meat alternatives: deli and packages sandwich meats, such as salami, ham, turkey and bacon are laden with added sodium. Again, always check the labels and opt for the “low sodium” options. Or, however, buy a fresh turkey breast and make your own sandwich meat. Season with herbs and spices and slice thin after cooking!

7. Brown bag your lunch: grab-and-go and store-bought meals are higher in sodium. Try and reduce the number of days/week that you buy your lunch! Pack a brown bag with a healthy option, such as a sandwich or salad, and jam pack it all your favourites! My favourite lunch at the moment is a big bowl of sweet potato cubes, black beans (rinsed, of course), spinach and quinoa with either grilled fish or chicken. Seasoned with lots of spices, lime and cilantro!

8. 50/50 your takeout: don’t feel like cooking tonight? I FEEL YA! Takeout foods (Pizza, Chinese, Indian) are super high in sodium, so always 50/50 your takeout. Keep some salad ingredients in the fridge (bagged salads are so easy), and mix your takeout with some healthy home cooked options. You may want to pick up your favourite Chicken Tikka Masala, but eating it with homemade brown rice and broccoli can ensure that your side dishes are low in sodium to balance the high-sodium main!

9. Increase fruit and vegetable intake: fruits and vegetables are very low in sodium and offer plenty of other nutritional benefits. By increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, you may start to decrease some other food choices with sneaky sodium levels. Swapping chips/pretzels at lunch with some carrots or swap your ice cream for fruit a few days a week will help lower your sodium intake!

10. Decrease your packaged food consumption: research suggests that packaged and processed foods are not good for our health! Decreasing the amount of processed and packaged foods will not only save you on sodium levels, but also added sugar and trans/saturated fat!

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