You need some sodium in your body to regulate important functions, such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and body fluid balancing. However, for the average person, the amount of sodium your body actually needs is minuscule in comparison with how much you're probably eating. Following a low-sodium diet can help reduce your chances of developing health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Most healthy adults should eat no more than 2,300mg of sodium a day, according to MayoClinic.com. However, you should cut down to 1,500mg or less per day if you are black, if you are middle aged or older, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease,. Since these guidelines are healthy maximums, the less the better. Consult your doctor if you're not sure how much sodium you should consume.
If you focus on eating more fresh foods, you will be less likely to take in too much sodium. Most fresh vegetables and fruits are naturally low in sodium and fresh meats typically contain less sodium than bacon, lunch meats, ham, sausage and hot dogs. Keep in mind that some foods, such as shellfish, celery, milk and meat naturally have some sodium in them. For example, milk contains about 107mg of sodium in 1 cup. When choosing fresh foods such as bread and dairy products from the grocery store, read labels to ensure that they contain no more than 200mg of sodium in a serving, recommends MayoClinic.com.
Cutting Out Major Food Sources
Processed and prepared foods are the top source of dietary sodium for many people, says MayoClinic.com. Foods other than cured and lunch meats that are high in added sodium include canned soups and vegetables, dried soups, salty snack foods, olives, pickles, cheeses and restaurant and carry-out foods, notes the American Heart Association. Condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, dips and dressings also contain sodium. Whenever you do, choose to eat prepared and packaged foods, pick the low-sodium variety whenever it is available. Many canned soups, for example, come in a low-sodium version and foods such as pretzels come in unsalted varieties.
Reduced Sodium Cooking
The way you prepare your food can add a lot of sodium to your diet if you're not careful. Just 1 tsp. of table salt, for example, contains 2,325mg of sodium. Many recipes, such as stews and casseroles, can go without salt; substitute it with other flavorful options such as citrus fruit zest and fresh and dried herbs and spices.
Be careful when using salt substitutes. Because salt substitutes can contain a combination of table salt and other compounds, you may end up using more than the recommended amount to make your food taste as salty as you want it, warns MayoClinic.com. Also, some salt substitutes contain an ingredient called potassium chloride, which may harm you if you have kidney problems or if you're taking any medicine for blood pressure or congestive heart failure, notes MayoClinic.com.