Question: My doctor has restricted me to a 2-gram (2,000-milligram) sodium diet. Are salt substitutes a good way to moderate sodium intake?
Answer: Salt substitutes are not a healthful option for everyone. Many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride in place of sodium chloride. Potassium consumed in excess may be harmful for some people. For example, many persons with kidney problems are unable to rid their bodies of excessive potassium, which could result in a deadly situation. If you have kidney problems or are on medication for your heart, kidneys or liver, it is best to check with your physician before using salt substitutes in place of sodium.
Otherwise a salt substitute containing potassium chloride is an acceptable alternative in moderation, if you do not have kidney problems and have checked with your physician to be sure it will not interact with any of your medications.
Some salt substitutes that are labeled "lite" or "low sodium" salt still contain sodium just less than amounts than actual table salt. These products often contain a mix of sodium chloride and potassium chloride. If a product is labeled "sodium free" then the main ingredient is potassium chloride with no sodium.
Ideally, the best way to go is completely "Salt Free." Instead of mimicking the taste of sodium with salt substitutes, start experimenting with other more flavorful herbs and spices to add zest to your meals. Try fresh garlic or garlic powder, lemon juice, flavored vinegar, salt-free herb blends, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh ground pepper, tarragon, oregano and many others to unleash the powerful flavors these salt-free herbs and spices have to offer.
Remember that a 2 gram sodium restriction includes the total sodium in your day - this includes the foods that you eat, not just the seasoning that you add. Be cautious of nutrition labels and keep foods under 140 mg or less which is considered a "low sodium food".
The preference for salt is learned meaning you can unlearn your craving. By reducing your craving for salt you can learn to appreciate new flavors and flavor combinations. Start by adding fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (dried beans, lentils, split peas) into your reduced-sodium diet. Make it a goal to incorporate these naturally low-sodium foods over most convenience foods on a daily basis. Gradually experiment with salt-free herbs and spices into your favorite recipes. Soon you won't even miss the taste for salt.
For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation - or - use our Remote Cardiac Nutrition Counseling Services.