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Low-Sodium Diet Guidelines

This article provides basic information to help you start or continue following your low-sodium diet. Planning what you eat and balancing your meals are important ways to manage your health. Eating healthy often means making changes in your current eating habits. A registered dietitian can provide in-depth personalized nutrition education, tailor these general guidelines to meet your needs, and help you begin a personal action plan. Some evidence suggests a daily sodium restriction to 1500 milligrams (1.5 grams) may benefit patients with cardiovascular risks including heart failure, hypertension, African-American ethnicity, and all middle aged and older adults.

Here are some basic guidelines that will help you get started:

  • Control the sodium in your diet. Decrease the total amount of sodium you consume to 2,000 mg (2 g) per day.
  • Learn to read food labels. Use the label information on food packages to help you to make the best low-sodium selections.
  • Include high-fiber foods such as vegetables, cooked dried peas and beans (legumes), whole-grain foods, bran, cereals, pasta, rice and fresh fruit. Fiber is the indigestible part of plant food that helps move food along the digestive tract, better controls blood glucose levels, and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Foods high in fiber include natural antioxidants, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The goal for everyone is to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. This includes losing weight if you are overweight. Limit your total daily calories, follow a low-fat diet and exercise regularly to achieve or maintain your ideal body weight.

Learning to read food labels

Food labels are standardized by the U.S. government's National Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Nutrition labels and an ingredient list are required on most foods so you can make the best selection for a healthy lifestyle. Review the food label below. If you do not know how much total sodium is in this product, ask your dietitian, or health care provider, to show you how to read food labels and apply the information to your personal needs.

Nutrition Facts
  • A. The serving size represents the typical amount eaten by an adult.
  • B. The sodium content is listed on the food label per serving size. Ignore the % daily value and focus on the amount of mg sodium per serving. Decrease the total amount of sodium you consume to 2,000 milligrams (mg) or 2 grams (g) per day.

Low sodium = 140 mg or less per serving
No sodium = less than 5 mg per serving

Sodium guidelines

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. It helps keep normal fluids balanced in the body. Most people eat foods containing more sodium than they need. Some foods may be high in sodium and not taste salty. Eating too much sodium causes the body to keep or retain too much water.

Following a low-sodium diet helps control high blood pressure (hypertension), swelling, and water build-up (edema). A low-sodium diet also can help decrease breathing difficulties caused when the weakened heart has difficulty pumping excess fluid out of the body.

Your doctor may recommend that you consume no more than 2,000 mg (2g) of sodium per day. A low-sodium diet means more than just eliminating the salt shaker from the table! However, that is a good start since one teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg of sodium. It is important to keep a record of the amount of sodium you consume every day. Write down the amount in mg after each meal or snack.

Comparison of Sodium in Foods
Protein
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Bacon 1 medium slice 155
Chicken (dark meat) 3.5 oz roasted 87
Chicken (light meat) 3.5 oz roasted 77
Egg, fried 1 large 162
Egg, scrambled with milk 1 medium slice 171
Dried beans, peas or lentils 1 cup 4
Haddock 3 oz cooked 74
Halibut 3 oz cooked 59
Ham (roasted) 3.5 oz 1300-1500
Hamburger (lean) 3.5 oz broiled medium 77
Hot dog (beef) 1 medium 585
Peanuts, dry roasted 1 oz 228
Pork loin, roasted 3.5 oz 65
Roast lamb leg 3.5 oz 65
Roast veal leg 3.5 oz 68
Salmon 3 oz 50
Shellfish 3 oz 100 to 325
Shrimp 3 oz 190
Spareribs, braised 3.5 oz 93
Steak, T-bone 3.5 oz 66
Tuna, canned in spring water 3 oz chunk 300
Turkey, dark meat 3.5 roasted 76
Turkey, light meat 3.5 roasted 63
Dairy Products
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
American Cheese 1 oz 443
Buttermilk, salt added 1 cup 260
Cheddar cheese 1 oz 175
Cottage cheese, low fat 1 cup 918
Milk, whole 1 cup 120
Milk, skim or 1% 1 cup 125
Swiss cheese 1 oz 75
Yogurt, plain 1 cup 115
Vegetables and Vegetable Juice
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Asparagus 6 spears 10
Avocado 1/2 medium 10
Beans, white, cooked 1 cup 4
Beans, green 1 cup 4
Beets 1 cup 84
Broccoli, raw 1/2 cup 12
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 20
Carrot, raw 1 medium 25
Carrot, cooked 1/2 cup 52
Celery 1 stalk raw 35
Corn boiled, (sweet, no butter/salt) 1/2 cup 14
Cucumber 1/2 sliced 1
Eggplant, raw 1 cup 2
Eggplant, cooked 1 cup 4
Lettuce 1 leaf 2
Lima beans 1 cup 5
Mushrooms 1/2 cup (raw or cooked) 1-2
Mustard greens 1/2 chopped 12
Onions, chopped 1/2 cup (raw or cooked) 2-3
Peas 1 cup 4
Potato 1 baked 7
Radishes 10 11
Spinach, raw 1/2 cup 22
Spinach, cooked 1/2 cup 63
Squash, acorn 1/2 cup 4
Sweet potato 1 small 12
Tomato 1 small 11
Tomato juice, canned 3/4 cup 660
Fruits and Fruit Juices
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Apple 1 medium 1
Apple juice 1 cup 7
Apricots 3 medium 1
Apricots (dried) 10 halves 3
Banana 1 medium 1
Cantaloupe 1/2 cup chopped 14
Dates 10 medium 2
Grapes 1 cup 2
Grape juice 1cup 7
Grapefruit 1 medium 0
Grapefruit juice 1 cup 3
Orange 1 medium 1
Orange juice 1 cup 2
Peach 1 0
Prunes 10 3
Raisins 1/3 cup 6
Strawberries 1 cup 2
Watermelon 1 cup 3
Breads and Grains
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Bran flakes 3/4 cup 220
Bread, whole wheat 1 slice 159
Bread, white 1 slice 123
Bun, hamburger 1 241
Cooked cereal (instant) 1 packet 250
Corn flakes 1 cup 290
English muffin 1/2 182
Pancake 1 (7-inch round) 431
Rice, white long grain 1 cup cooked 4
Shredded wheat 1 biscuit 0
Spaghetti 1 cup 7
Waffle 1 frozen 235
Convenience Foods
Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Canned soups 1 cup 600-1,300
Canned and frozen main dishes 8 oz 500-2,570

Please note: These are sodium content ranges—the sodium content in certain food items may vary. Please contact your dietitian for specific product information.

Source: Sodium analysis was done using ESHA Food Processor for Windows, Version 8.4, 2004.

Sodium guidelines: Foods to choose

Protein - choose 2-3 servings per day
  • 2-3 ounces of fresh or frozen fish, shellfish, meat (beef, veal, lamb, pork) or poultry
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans or peas
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium canned fish (such as salmon or tuna)
  • 1 low-sodium frozen dinner (less than 600mg sodium per meal) - Limit to one per day
  • 1 egg (no more than 3 whole eggs per week)
Dairy products - choose 2 or more servings/day
  • 1-1/2 ounces of low-sodium cheese
  • 1 cup milk (non-fat or 1% recommended)
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium cottage cheese
  • 1 cup soy milk
Vegetables and fruits - choose 5 or more servings/day
  • 1/2 cup fresh whole, chopped, cooked, frozen or canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked, frozen or no-salt added canned vegetables
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium tomato juice or V-8 juice
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
Bread and grains - choose 6 or more servings/day
  • Low-sodium breads, rolls, bagels and cereals (1 serving = 1 slice bread, 1 small roll, 1/2 bagel, 1/2 English muffin or a 4-inch pita
  • 1/2 cup pasta (noodles, spaghetti, macaroni)
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • Low-sodium crackers (read label for serving size)
Sweets and snacks (include sparingly)
  • 1 ounce unsalted nuts
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium pretzels or chips
  • 3 cups popped low-sodium popcorn
  • 3 fig bars or gingersnaps
  • 1 slice angel food cake
  • 1 tbsp jelly or honey
  • 1 cup sherbet, sorbet or Italian ice; 1 popsicle
  • 8-10 jelly beans; 3 pieces hard candy
Fats, oils and condiments (use sparingly)
  • Olive and canola oils
  • Low-sodium butter and margarine
  • Low-sodium soups
  • Low-sodium salad dressing
  • Homemade gravy without salt
  • Low-sodium broth or bouillon
  • Low-sodium catsup
  • Low-sodium mustard
  • Low-sodium sauce mixes
Other seasonings (can use freely)
  • Lemon juice
  • Vinegar
  • Herbs and spices without salt

Sample Menu

Breakfast
  • Fresh fruit
  • Low sodium cereal (hot or cold)
  • Milk
  • Low sodium wheat bread
  • Reduced sodium margarine or peanut butter
Lunch
  • Lean roast turkey on whole wheat bread with low sodium mustard
  • Raw carrot sticks
  • Applesauce
  • Unsalted pretzels
Dinner
  • Grilled Chicken
  • Boiled potatoes
  • Steamed fresh vegetables
  • Tossed salad and low sodium dressing
  • Low sodium roll with low sodium margarine
  • Fresh melon
  • Angel food cake
Snack
  • Fresh fruit

Note: For a diet in which you consume 2,000 mg pf sodium per day, a sample plan might involve eating 500 mg at breakfast, 150 mg for snacks twice daily, 600 mg for lunch, and 600 mg for dinner.

Sodium guidelines

  • Use fresh ingredients and/or foods with no salt added.
  • For favorite recipes, you may need to use other ingredients and delete or decrease the salt added. Salt can be removed from any recipe except from those containing yeast.
  • Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.
  • Avoid convenience foods such as canned soups, entrees, vegetables, pasta and rice mixes, frozen dinners, instant cereal and puddings, and gravy sauce mixes.
  • Select frozen entrees that contain 600 mg or less of sodium. However, limit to one of these frozen entrees per day. Check the Nutrition Facts label on the package for sodium content.
  • Use fresh, frozen, no added salt canned vegetables, or canned vegetables that have been rinsed before they are prepared.
  • Low sodium canned soups may be used.
  • Avoid mixed seasonings and spice blends that include salt, such as garlic salt.
  • Don’t use a salt substitute unless you check with your doctor first.

Seasoning recipes

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Spoon into shaker. Store in a cool, dark place.

Spicy blend
  • 2 tbsp dried savory, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 2-1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
Saltless surprise
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp powdered lemon rind or dehydrated lemon juice
Spicy seasoning
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp coriander seed (crushed)
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
Herb seasoning
  • 2 tbsp dried dill weed or basil leaves, crumbled
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp (pinch) dried oregano leaves, crumbled freshly ground pepper

Restaurant dining tips

Appetizers
  • Select fresh fruit or vegetables
  • Avoid soups and broths
  • Stay away from bread and rolls with salty, buttery crusts
Salads
  • Select fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid pickles, canned or marinated vegetables, cured meats, seasoned croutons, cheeses, salted seeds
  • Order salad dressings on the side and use small amounts of them
Main courses
  • Select meat, poultry, fish or shellfish choices that includes the words broiled, grilled or roasted
  • Select plain vegetables, potatoes and noodles
  • Ask the server about the low sodium menu choices, and ask how the food is prepared
  • Request food to be cooked without salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Avoid restaurants that do not allow for special food preparation (such as buffet style restaurants, diners or fast food chains)
  • Avoid casseroles, mixed dishes, gravies and sauces
  • At fast food restaurants, choose the salad entrees or non-fried and non-breaded entrees (such as a baked potato) and skip the special sauces, condiments and cheese*
  • Avoid salted condiments and garnishes such as olives and pickles
Desserts

Select fresh fruits, ices, ice cream, sherbet, gelatin and plain cakes

Alcohol guidelines

Because alcohol can slow your heart rate and worsen your heart failure, your health care provider may tell you to avoid or limit alcoholic beverages. Alcohol may also interact with the medications you are taking. Ask your health care provider for specific guidelines regarding alcohol.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/15/2009...#12958