Low-sodium diet

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Teen girl checking ingredient list

What is sodium?

Sodium is a mineral found in our bodies that helps control the body’s water balance and blood pressure.

You get sodium from the foods you eat. Most of the sodium you eat comes from salt. It might be added when food is being produced or you might add it at home while cooking or about to eat.

Everyone needs some sodium each day. But most people get much more sodium in their diet than they need. This can become a problem for people with high blood pressure. Too much sodium can also be a problem if you are taking steroids.

Read food labels to find out how much salt is present

Reading food labels is a great way to help make sure you do not eat too much salt. The salt content of food is labeled in milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving.

Sodium per serving

Choose products that have less than 200 mg of sodium per serving. For a whole meal, for example three different foods on the same plate, the sodium content should be less than 600 mg per meal.

Food labels: Nutrition Facts (one serving)
Amount % Daily Value
SodiumLess than 200 mg8% or less

The total amount of sodium you can have in a day depends on your condition and age. Health Canada recommends a maximum of 1500 mg of sodium a day for teenagers.

Remember: 1 teaspoon of salt has almost 2400 mg of sodium. One pinch of salt has about 150 mg of sodium.

Ask your dietitian how much sodium you can have each day and write it in your health journal.

Checking ingredient lists

Ingredients are listed in order of weight, from the largest to the smallest. Look for words that mean a food is salty. These words include:

  • sodium or salt
  • garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt
  • brine
  • broth
  • soy sauce
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • baking powder, baking soda
  • disodium phosphate or sodium bisulfate
  • sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, sodium propionate.

If one of these words is near the start of the ingredient list or if several words are in the list, the food is too salty to eat.

Low-sodium food choices

Vegetables and fruit

You should have ______ servings of vegetables and fruit each day.

Best choicesFoods to avoid
All fresh or plain frozen vegetables Frozen vegetables with butter or cheese sauces
Canned vegetables (check ingredients) All pickles and sauerkraut
Small servings of tomato sauce, tomato puree, spaghetti sauce (check the label) Tomato and vegetable juices
All fresh, frozen or canned fruits and fruit juices (except grapefruit) Olives
Dried fruits

Breads and cereals

Check food labels and choose products with the lowest sodium content possible.

Best choices
Foods to avoid
Breads: bagels, muffins, toast, tortilla and others
Pasta, noodles and riceInstant pasta, noodles and rice with flavour packets; canned spaghetti or other pasta
Unsalted or "less salty" crackers Salted crackers
Quick cooking cereals and cold cereal Instant hot cereals
Homemade bread stuffing, coating and batter mixes Commercial bread stuffing, coating and batter mixes
Homemade pies, cakes and muffinsPies, cakes, muffins or biscuits from commercial or frozen mixes
Homemade pancakes, French toast and waffles

Milk and milk alternatives

You should drink ____ cups of milk a day.

Best choicesFoods to avoid
Milk (skim, 1%, 2% or homogenized), evaporated milk, milk desserts, ice cream, sherbetsButtermilk
Cheese - mozzarella, Swiss, goat, ricotta and unsalted cottage cheese (limit to 30-60 mL, or about 1-2 oz, a day)Processed cheese (slices, spreads, cheese strings) and cheese sauces
Cream cheeseBlue, brick, cheddar, feta, Gouda and Parmesan cheese
Whipping cream and sour cream

Meat and alternatives (such as beans, nuts, seeds and eggs)

In general, choose fresh rather than processed meats.

Best choices
Foods to avoid
Fresh beef, pork, lamb, goat, veal, fish, chicken and other poultry, fish and vealCured or smoked meats such as bacon, ham, lox, smoked salmon, herring, dried beef or meat sticks (beef jerky)
Tuna or salmon canned in waterTuna, salmon, anchovies or other fish canned in broth or oil
Homemade fish sticks, chiecken fingers or nuggetsKosher prepared meats
Unsalted peanut butterRegular peanut butter
EggsLuncheon meats such as cold cuts, corned beef, pastrami, pepperoni, sausage, hot dogs, salt pork, canned meats
All legumes - lentils, chickpeas, all beansFrozen battered or breaded fish
Unsalted nuts and seedsFrozen battered or breaded chicken, such as chicken fingers or nuggets
Canned chili

Instant and processed foods

Instead of having instant and processed foods, try some homemade alternatives. These allow you to control the amount of salt you add.

Best choices
Foods to avoid
Homemade or low-sodium soupsCanned soup, powdered soup mixes, instant soup, bouillon cubes such as Oxo and Knorr, instant broth
Homemade pasta dishes, chili, baked beans, stewCanned spaghetti or ravioli, chili, pork and beans or stew
Homemade noodles, rice or potato dishes, macaroni and cheese, casserolesPackaged noodle, ricke or potato dishes, macaroni and cheese, casserole mixes, tacos, sloppy joes and so on
Homemade seasonings (or use only half the package of seasoning)Frozen TV dinners, commercial pizza
Homemade pizza (without meat, except for ground beef)

Salt, baking needs, easoning, condiments and sauces

Best choicesFoods to avoid
Pepper, fresh garlic, garlic powder, fresh onion, onion powderTable salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, seasoning salt, popcorn flavourings
Ginger, curry and other spices and herbs, Mrs Dash or other salt-free seasoning mixesMeat tenderizers such as Accent
Lemon juiceBaking powder, baking soda (use no more than 5 mL, or 1 teaspoon, a day)
Mustard powder, vinegarKetchup, mustard, relishes (allow 15 mL, or 1 tablespoon, a day), barbecue sauce, chili sauce, steak or Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce
Homemade or low-sodium saucePickles, olives, sauerkraut
Margarine, butter, oilBacon fat
Homemade gravyCanned gravy, gravy mix
Homemade oil and vinegar salad dressings, low-sodium salad dressingsStore-bought salad dressing - maximum 15 mL or 1 tablespoon a day

Snacks and drinks

Best choicesFoods to avoid
Unsalted potato, tortilla, nacho or corn chipsRegular potato, tortilla, nacho or corn chips
Unsalted popcorn or nutsRegular popcorn, pretzels or nuts
Homemade dips without saltCommercial dips or dips made from packages or dry soup mixes
WaterMineral water with more than 250 mg sodium per litre
Fruit juice and drinks (except grapefruit) Sports drinks

Eating out and reducing sodium

Here are some tips you can use to get less sodium when you eat out.

Read the menu

Look for words that are a sign of lots of sodium, such as: "marinated," "pickled," "smoked," "soy sauce," "teriyaki sauce," or "in broth." Try not to eat these foods.

Ask the server for help

You can ask the chef not to add salt to your portion. Sauces and gravies often have lots of salt, but you can also ask for these on the side so that you can control how much salt you take in. Use only small amounts of ketchup, mustard, relish, and other sauces and condiments.

Choose less salty fast food items

Most of the foods at fast food restaurants are very salty. Try to eat home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients instead.

If you do eat fast food, follow these tips.

  • Hamburgers: Avoid cheese, special sauces, pickles and bacon. Limit other condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.
  • French fries: Ask for fries straight from the fryer, before salt is added.
  • Pizza: Choose ground beef instead of pepperoni, bacon, sausage or anchovies. Choose onions, pineapple, mushrooms or green peppers instead of olives.
  • Chicken: Roasted, broiled or grilled chicken are better choices than breaded or fried chicken. Limit the amount of dipping sauce you use.
  • Chinese food: Find a restaurant that does not use MSG. Choose dishes without soy or teriyaki sauce and don’t add soy sauce yourself.
Last updated: November 30th 2017