Shopping for Low-Sodium Foods

by in Grocery Shopping, Healthy Tips, August 7, 2009

About 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure. A good step to take for improving or preventing high blood pressure is to cut back on eating salt — especially from the biggest culprit: processed foods. These days many food manufacturer’s offer “low sodium” or “no salt added” options, but labels can be confusing. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

The Recommendations
There are some foods that are just high in sodium, period. Bacon, bouillon cubes, mustard, olives, pickles, sausages and smoked fish are just a few of the more popular ones. Salt is used as a flavor enhancer and as a preservative to lengthen the food’s shelf life and decrease bacterial growth. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should only get 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day maximum — that’s about as much as 1 teaspoon of table salt. For folks diagnosed with high blood pressure, the daily sodium limit goes down 1,500 milligrams (around two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt). That’s not a lot!

Reading the Nutrition Facts
Reading the label can get tricky. Don’t fall for the oldest trick in the book (or on the package in this case). If an item says “reduced sodium” (a.k.a. “lower sodium”), it means that the item contains at least 25% less sodium than a “regular” version, but it could still have some heavy doses of salt in it. It’s best to read the Nutrition Facts panel and look at the total milligrams. A food or drink typically is “low sodium” if it contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving — that’s what you should be looking for.

Breads, Crackers, Hot and Cold Cereals
Check the labels on these types of products to make sure they meet the “low sodium” criteria (remember: 140 milligrams or less). Here are a few brand names that make the cut, although there are many more out there:

Fruits and Veggies
When it comes to produce, it’s the canned veggies that top the high-sodium hit list. Fresh fruits and veggies are always your safest bet, but we know canned is convenient. If you turn to pre-packaged, here are some ones we like:

Dairy, Especially Cheese
You may be more worried about the high fat content, but sodium is another biggie in cheese. Here are a few companies that sell low-sodium versions:

Canned Legumes and Fish
Again, with canned foods, you need to be on the lookout for high sodium contents. Salt is key to preserving canned foods like beans and tuna. Lower sodium choices might be:

They don’t call them “salty snacks” for nothing. Check out your favorite packaged, crunchy snacks — pretzels, baked chips, nuts. whatever. Their sodium content might shock you. And the more you munch, the more salt you get. Here are some better choices (notice that they’re all “unsalted”):

Just Ask!
Some stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have created a low-sodium list of all their foods to make your life easier. Trader Joe’s offers their online here, whereas your local Whole Foods has their list in store. Your local grocer may have their own similar list, and if not, suggest that they do it!

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Comments (9)

  1. maris says:

    So funny that you wrote about these – I bought black soy beans by mistake (instead of black beans) and wondered what the difference was. Good to know I made a mistake that will turn out better for me!

  2. Louise says:

    Everyone please be aware that if it is "LOW SODIUM" the manufacturer replaces the salt with a salt substitue which is high in potassium and will increase your blood potassium. Some people on certain medications already have there potassium increased as a side effect of the drug. Too much potassium in the blood is dangerous. If the label does not say the amount of potassium in it, call the manufacturer and ask them how much potassium it contains per serving.

  3. tamidor says:

    Hi Louise,
    Potassium is actually a requirement on food labels–so you should be able to find the amount no problem. Typically those with kidney disease need to be careful with potassium. If you are on a certain medication, consult your physician or registered dietitian about any interactions (some medications actually leach out potassium). For a overall healthy individual not on any medications, there is no need to worry.

    • Jean says:

      Potassium is NOT required to be on food labels. I wish it was. I spend hours looking for potassium content of foods I eat. How can we get the FDA to require this to be on the label?

  4. karen says:

    I always rinse all of my canned veggies. I am finding some of my local chain grocery stores in my area have quit carring them. I talk to the the manage but it does seem to help. Basically they are saying they don't sell as well and they just don't have the space for them.

  5. terry werntz says:

    finally – a good article about low and no salt foods. Rinsing canned veggies helps a lot to remove salt, although fresh or even frozen are even better. Keep up the good work. Also, thanks for Trader Joe's list of low and salt-free foods.

  6. Linda Calderon says:

    You failed, under the tuna, canned, area to mention that Trader Joe's has Tongol chunk light (the healthiest, not white with more mercury) with just 50 mg. sodium in a serving and it is wild caught and Whole Foods also has a brand with 0 salt added as this. Tongol's sodium is from the tuna, itself and not added salt per the ingredient list..

  7. karen says:

    i also rinse all the canned vegetables i open at least thee times. to lower the sodium count,it seems to help.karen

  8. When I first saw this title Shopping for Low-Sodium Foods | Healthy Eats – Food Network Healthy Living Blog on google I just whent and bookmark it. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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