Did you know? You might be getting more sodium than you need, even if you never pick up the salt shaker! That’s because more than 70% of the sodium we eat comes from pre-packaged and restaurant foods. That can make it hard to control how much sodium you’re getting, because it’s added to your food before you even buy it. Here are a few things you can do to be more aware of the sodium you’re consuming.
At the store / while shopping for food:
• Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Take the time to compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium per serving you can find. Surprisingly, different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.
• Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline,” or “sodium solution.”
• Be aware of sodium content in condiments. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsa, capers, mustard, pickles, olives, and relish can be very high in sodium. Look for a reduced- or lower-sodium version.
• Look for canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces. When they’re added to a casserole, soup, or other mixed dish, there are so many other ingredients involved that you won’t miss the salt.
When preparing food:
• Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices, and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor.
• Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables. By simply rinsing them off, the sodium content is reduced by up to 40%.
• Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods right now, try combining them in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. You’ll get less salt and probably won’t notice much difference in taste. This works especially well for broths, soups, and tomato-based sauces.
• Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt. You’re likely going to add other flavorful ingredients, so the salt won’t be missed.
• Ask your waiter if your dish can be made without extra salt.
• Before adding salt, taste your food to see if it needs it. If it tastes a little bland, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken, and vegetables.
• Watch out for these key words: pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce. These tend to be higher in sodium. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted may have less sodium.
• Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium, too. Ask if smaller portions are available, share the meal with a friend, or ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
Over time, your taste buds can adjust to reduced salt. Studies have shown that when people consume less salt over a period of time, they start to prefer the taste of food with less salt. Try it and see for yourself!