The great thing about a low-carb diet is that it’s quite compatible with a low-sodium plan. Low-carb diets eliminate or restrict some of the top sources of sodium, like bread, pasta and snacks. Plus the foods that form the basis of a low-carb diet -- fresh meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, healthy oils and fruits -- are all naturally low in sodium. You still have to be careful about certain choices, though, or you can blow your carb and sodium goals right out of the water.
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Low-Sodium and Low-Carb Basics
A low-sodium diet may be prescribed by a doctor to treat high blood pressure or relieve complications from heart, kidney and liver disease. But it also means getting a healthy amount of sodium in your normal diet. For most people, that means choosing low-sodium foods to reduce their daily intake. Ninety percent of Americans consume more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Low-carb diets may be prescribed to treat medical conditions such as epilepsy, but they’re usually used for weight loss. When you cut down on carbs, your body shifts to burning fat for fuel, which may help you lose weight more quickly and keep it off, reports the Harvard School of Public Health. You’ll find a variety of low-carb plans that recommend anywhere from 20 to 130 grams of net carbs daily -- total carbs minus fiber.
Sodium Content of Meat, Fish and Poultry
Fresh meat, poultry and fish are free of carbs and naturally low in sodium. On the flip slide, they’re sometimes treated with solutions that boost the sodium content. Frozen fish is treated with a salt solution, which can easily double the sodium content. Meat and poultry products are sometimes enhanced -- marinated or injected with salt-rich solutions -- to tenderize, add moisture and improve flavor. The label must clearly state when products are enhanced, so be sure to check the nutrition facts to see how much sodium you’ll get in a serving.
Bacon is allowed on a low-carb diet but not on a low-sodium diet. Just one strip of cured, pork bacon has 202 milligrams of sodium, or 8 percent of the daily value based on consuming 2,000 calories daily. Luncheon meats range from 1 to 6 grams of net carbs, but they tip the scale when it comes to sodium. You may be able to keep these meats on the menu if you go with low-sodium options, such as meatless bacon.
Variable Sodium and Carbs in Dairy and Eggs
Hard cheeses all have the same amount of carbs -- about 1 gram of net carbs per ounce -- but watch out for varying amounts of sodium. Swiss cheese is a great choice, with just 20 milligrams of sodium in a 1-ounce slice, or a meager 1 percent of the daily value. Feta is too high in sodium to stay on the menu, but most other hard cheeses are fair game. For example, mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese have 180 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Milk is low in sodium, with 105 milligrams in a cup, but with its 12 grams of net carbs, you’ll need to limit it on a low-carb menu. Consider using a milk substitute, like unsweetened almond milk. It has about the same sodium but only 1 gram of net carbs. One large egg is a good choice because it only has 71 milligrams of sodium and less than 1 gram of net carbs.
Tips for Preparing a Low-Carb, Low-Sodium Diet
Avoid all processed foods and commercially prepared foods, whether at a restaurant, a fast-food joint or the grocery deli counter. They're much higher in sodium and carbs -- not to mention calories. Be sure the canned and frozen foods you buy are low-sodium products and that they’re not packed in a sugary syrup, which sends carbs sky high.
Get in the habit of checking the nutrition label for sodium content. If the item has 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving, it's considered low in sodium. Products with 35 milligrams or less are very low in sodium. Be careful about “light” products. They may have less fat and calories but more carbs and sodium.
You can serve up yummy, low-carb, low-sodium meals by sticking with simple combinations of whole foods seasoned with fresh herbs and spices. Dress a roasted skinless chicken breast with a black raspberry and red wine vinegar glaze, and serve with broccoli flavored with garlic or lemon pepper. Make a salad of fresh leafy greens, strawberries, mozzarella cheese and pecans, and top with an olive oil vinaigrette. Or try shredding cauliflower and mixing the small pieces with egg and onion, then sauteing them to resemble pancakes.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Top 10 Sources of Sodium
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevalence of Excess Sodium Intake in the United States – NHANES, 2009—2012
- Harvard School of Public Health: Low-Carbohydrate Diets
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Water in Meat and Poultry
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Bacon, Meatless Bacon, Bologna
- Atkins: Carb Counter
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Swiss Cheese, Feta Cheese
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Cheddar Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Whole Milk, Almond Milk, Egg
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Sodium in Your Diet: Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce Your Intake