By Stephanie Legin, RD, LDN
February is National Heart Month
Love and Care for your Heart and Kidneys: Tips to Cut the Sodium in your Diet
Did you know that our taste for salt is acquired? We are not born with an affinity for salt. As infants grow and are fed foods that contain salt, their taste for salt develops. As children continue to mature and consume more and more foods high in sodium (sodium is found in salt), their preference for these foods increases.
By adulthood, the average American consumes ~3400mg sodium per day. This is well above the American Heart Association’s recommendation to limit sodium to 1500mg per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more that 2300mg (which is the equivalent of ONE teaspoon of salt) of sodium per day. The average Canadian consumes ~2760mg sodium per day. Health Canada recommends aiming for sodium consumption to be 1500mg per day with a maximum of 2300mg per day.
= 2300mg Sodium
Over the last several decades, the evolution of food development and manufacturing has led to the over-consumption of sodium in the diet. Prevalence, ease of accessibility, and affordability to prepackaged, canned, and highly processed convenience foods has contributed to our increased consumption of sodium. Consuming too much sodium in the diet increases your risk for developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major contributor to the development of heart disease and kidney disease.
According to 2019 statistics, heart disease is the number one killer of Americans and the number two killer of Canadians. Dietary choices play a huge role in disease prevention and management. You can make wiser food choices that can help control blood pressure and reduce your risk for developing heart and kidney disease or help manage existing disease.
Tips to Cut the Sodium in your Diet
The following tips can help lower the salt in your diet and reduce your risk for or manage existing high blood pressure.
Shop the Perimeter of your Grocery Store.
- You will find the least processed foods in this area such as fresh produce, fresh fish and seafood, fresh cuts of meat and poultry, and dairy.
- Most fresh produce, meats, poultry, and seafood do not come with Nutrition Facts Labels and Ingredient Lists.
- Beware! Some fresh poultry is injected with a salt solution—always read your labels and avoid purchasing these items.
- Always read your Nutrition Facts Labels AND Ingredient Lists. These are essential to picking healthy food selections.
- The recommendation is to limit sodium to <=1500mg per day. On the Nutrition Facts Label look for:
- Foods that have <140mg sodium or <9% Daily Value per serving are considered “low sodium” foods. Choose these!
Foods that have >=400mg sodium or >26% Daily Value per serving are considered “high sodium” foods. Avoid these!
- Ingredients listed on the Ingredients List are listed from greatest concentration to least. If salt is at the beginning of the list, that indicates there is a high amount of sodium in that food product. Look for ingredients such as:
- Sodium Chloride
- Sodium Bicarbonate
- Sodium Phosphate
- Compare various brands of the same food item until you find the one that has the lowest sodium content, since this will vary from brand to brand.
The Inner Aisles
- If you do shop the inner aisles of the grocery store look for:
- Frozen vegetables without added salt or seasoning mixes—look for the label, “fresh frozen”
- No added salt canned vegetables
- Low-sodium canned soups
- No added salt snack foods (i.e. pretzels, popcorn, nuts, chips)
- Avoid: “instant” food items or items that contain seasoning packets (I.e rice or noodle mixes, quick one dinner meals)
- If you do purchase regular canned vegetables and legumes always rinse them with water before using to remove some of the salt that was added.
Achieving Flavor Without Salt
- Purchase fresh or dried herbs and spices to flavor your home cooked dishes. Select seasonings that do not contain salt, such as:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- You will find a variety of prepared salt free seasoning blends that pair well with whatever you are making (i.e. Cajun blend, Garlic and Herb Blend, Greek Blend, Zesty Lemon and Herb, etc.)
- Try different flavors of vinegar to flavor up your cooked or raw vegetables/salads. Sprinkle some on some fresh cooked vegetables or whip up a homemade (salt free!) salad dressing to put on a fresh salad.
- Vinegars come in a wide variety of flavors now that go beyond the basic white and red (i.e Balsamic, garlic infused, hot pepper, dill, Italian blend). You can make all of these flavored vinegars at home yourself. Purchase your favorite vinegar and add either fresh or dried herbs and spices. Let them sit and allow the flavors to infuse.
- Keep in mind—most everything contains sodium (even breakfast cereals, breads, cookies, pies, etc.)! So be an avid label reader and look for foods <140mg per serving.
- If you have CKD, avoid using salt substitutes to get your salt fix—they are potassium based. Your renal health care team may advise you to limit potassium in your diet.
Home Cooked Meals
- Cook at home as much as possible.
- Do not add salt to your cooking or to your meal at the table.
- If you do purchase frozen prepared foods, choose frozen meals that contain around 600 mg sodium or less for the entire meal.
- If you are in a situation where you cannot control what is being prepared or served—try eating half the portion. Smaller portion=less salt consumed.
Avoiding too much sodium in the diet is one of the most important things you can do to love and care for your heart and kidneys. Salt preference is an acquired taste that can be reversed! It takes about 6-8 weeks to get acclimated to eating a lower sodium diet but once you do, you’ll find it’s hard to tolerate foods like deli meats or chips because they taste way too salty.
For more informative articles on how to cut the sodium in your diet, please reference these articles on KidneyChef.com:
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