Shaking off the Salt

How to Create Low-Sodium Recipes

Salt pouring out of cupped hands

Salt pouring out of cupped hands

You don't need a diagnosis of high blood pressure to be concerned about your salt (sodium) intake. Too much salt in your diet can lead to heart and kidney problems and even osteoporosis.

Cutting back on salt isn't as simple as putting away the salt shaker. Only 5 to 10 percent of your sodium intake comes from adding salt at the table or in cooking. The majority (75 to 77 percent) comes from processed and packaged foods. So reading labels on items like cereal, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and frozen pizza is important.

These foods aren't the only culprits. "Hidden" sources of salt include foods we eat or cook with every day, such as tomato sauce (738 mg per cup), canned navy beans (586 mg in 1/2 cup) and baking soda (952 mg per teaspoon).

Some readers have written to us wondering about the amount of sodium listed in recipes. "I am surprised to find some of the recipes in your magazine are high in sodium," says Kathleen Z. of Dayton, Nevada. "Where does it come from?"

Consider Black Bean Soup with Fruit Salsa. The recipe uses no salt, but there's 929 mg of sodium in one cup, served with 1/3 cup of salsa. Where does it come from? Cured bacon (165 mg), canned chicken broth (413 mg) and canned black beans (267 mg) provide the bulk of it.

What's a Cook to Do?

To reduce the salt in this recipe, you could make your own chicken broth, look for low-sodium bacon or use half the suggested amount and, instead of canned beans, cook dried beans without salt.

Subscriber Dale J. of Northlake, Illinois alters many recipes to fit his diabetic diet, using ingredients like textured soy protein for sausage, low-sodium or "no salt added" canned tomatoes, and sugar and salt substitutes. (Check with your doctor before using salt substitutes.)

"I've discovered if you fool the eyes, nose and taste buds, the brain will fill in the rest," Dale writes. "So when the tongue tastes the salt substitute, the mind will think it is regular salt."

How much you use substitutions is a matter of taste…because foods will taste different. So do some experimenting. The suggestions below can help.

  • Limit smoked, cured and pickled foods.
  • Instead of canned fish or meats, choose fresh or frozen.
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables without any added salt.
  • Choose foods labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium" or "sodium free."
  • Be aware of the sodium content of condiments such as steak sauce, soy sauce, salsa and ketchup. Opt for low-sodium versions.
  • Use herbs and spices to season food. Try substituting citrus juices for the salt in homemade salad dressings.
  • When possible, cook from scratch instead of using "instant" products such as flavored rice and pasta.

What is Sodium?

Sodium is an essential mineral the body needs to help regulate the balance of water in the cells and keep nerves functioning. To maintain the sodium/water balance in our bodies, excess sodium is removed by the kidneys.

How Much Do You Need?

Current USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day (1,500 if you have high blood pressure). Our bodies need only 500 mg a day. The average American ingests 4,000 to 4,500 mg a day!