Simple ways to reduce sodium in your diet

Salty foods are linked to an increase in blood pressure. But it’s not hard to reduce daily sodium intake. Try these tasty tips that are also good for your heart.

Senior Asian couple cooking

Do you have high blood pressure? Reducing sodium intake is one important way to keep blood pressure under control. Even small diet changes can make a huge difference. And you don’t have to give up flavor. Here’s what you should know about sodium and heart health, along with some delicious swaps to try.

What exactly is sodium?

Sodium is a mineral that’s found in salt. It works with another mineral, potassium, to help balance fluids in the body. It also helps the nerves and muscles function. Everyone needs a small amount of sodium each day, but most Americans eat too much. And that can be bad for your health.

Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. High sodium intake increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the sodium Americans consume is from processed, packaged, and restaurant foods. You can’t control the sodium in these foods. Eating less of them is the only way to cut your sodium intake. The salt you add to foods while cooking counts for about 10% of salt intake, too.

So how much sodium is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day for most adults.

But adults eat much more than that. On average, Americans get 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Even cutting 1,000 mg a day can improve high blood pressure and heart health.

Where does sodium come from infographic

Tips on trimming sodium

Preparing your own food at home can help you avoid high-sodium dishes. Homemade meals can have some sneaky salt additions, though – especially if you use packaged and prepared ingredients. Here’s how to make lower-salt choices at the grocery store, at home, and when you eat out.

Be aware of sneaky high-sodium grocery store items. Certain foods that don’t even seem salty can contain a lot of sodium. Some of the biggest culprits include:

  • Bread
  • Canned soup
  • Cheese
  • Frozen prepared foods
  • Processed meats (deli meat, ham, bacon)
  • Salad dressing, sauces, and condiments
  • Crackers, chips, pretzels, and nuts

Look for these words on the label. Here are common phrases about sodium that appear on food labels, and what they mean:

  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
  • Salt- or sodium-free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving

Compare foods using the nutrition facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed on every nutrition label. Foods that are less than 5% Daily Value per serving are considered low sodium. The sodium is also listed in milligrams. You can see how many milligrams a food will add to your daily limit.

Cut back on salt when you cook. It’s not hard to trim sodium while preparing food. Here are some tasty ideas:

  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt to boost flavor. Sprinkle them on rice, scrambled eggs, and popcorn. Good picks: Thyme, rosemary, cumin, parsley, and cilantro. 
  • Marinate food before cooking. This locks in flavor so you may be less tempted to reach for the salt shaker. For example, throw a chicken breast into a plastic zip-top bag with olive oil, lemons, and herbs.
  • Add zest to food with lower-sodium condiments like mustard, vinegar, salsa, or hot sauce. Condiment sodium levels can vary, so check the labels first.
  • Rinse canned beans and vegetables. This gets rid of some of the sodium used to preserve them.

Be sodium-smart at restaurants. When eating out, try these tips:

  • Ask for a menu with nutrition information. Some menus have icons to identify healthier options.
  • Choose items that are grilled, broiled, or steamed. Avoid anything fried or battered.
  • Ask your server if the kitchen will prepare your meal without salt.
  • Choose healthier side dishes such as baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, or fresh fruit.

It takes time to adjust to new eating habits. But your taste buds can get used to a lower-salt diet. And your heart will thank you for the effort.

For more support, check out Wellvolution®. Our online program offers many Blue Shield members access to top-rated tools designed to help you build a healthier lifestyle and a healthier you. And it’s available at no additional cost. To learn if Wellvolution is included in your plan, call the Customer Care line on your Blue Shield member ID card.

Last updated: July 20, 2022
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