Sodium is a vital mineral that helps your body with several crucial processes. It is naturally present in foods such as vegetables and eggs and is a significant part of our everyday table salt (sodium chloride).
Despite being essential to health, occasionally, you may have to restrict dietary salt depending on your health condition. For instance, individuals with heart failure, high blood pressure, and kidney disease are advised to follow a low-sodium diet.
This article discusses the benefits, risks, food to eat and avoid, and why some people must follow a low-sodium diet.
What is a Low-Sodium Diet?
Sodium is a crucial mineral that aids in various vital body processes, such as fluid management, cellular activity, electrolyte balance, and blood pressure maintenance. Our kidneys closely control the levels of this mineral since it is essential to life and this mineral influneces concentration (osmolarity) of physiological fluids.
Most things we eat include sodium, some foods have far lower quantities. Fresh fruit and other plant-based foods typically contain less sodium than animal-based meals such as meat and dairy. The processed and packed items, such as chips, frozen dinners, and fast food, contain the highest concentrations of sodium because salt is added during processing to improve flavours.
Adding salt to food while cooking and seasoning adds to sodium intake significantly. High-sodium meals and drinks are an absolute no to a low-sodium diet. Healthcare professionals often advise low sodium diets to manage ailments such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Although there are exceptions, daily sodium intake is typically limited to no more than a couple of grams (2,000–3,000 mg). For reference, 2,300 mg of sodium are present in one teaspoon of salt.
To maintain the salt intake below the advised range when on a low-sodium diet, items high in sodium must be cut down or altogether avoided.
Why are low-sodium diets recommended?
A low sodium diet is often used in hospital settings. According to a study, sodium restriction may help regulate or improve several medical disorders, such as:
Kidney disease adversely affects kidney function, causing chronic renal disease (CKD) and kidney failure. When the kidneys are damaged, they can’t efficiently rid the body of extra fluid or sodium. If sodium and fluid levels reach too high, pressure builds in the blood, which may further cause damage to already compromised kidneys.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a risk factor for several health conditions, including major ones such as stroke and heart disease. A high-sodium diet may be linked to increased blood pressure. Many research studies have shown that reducing salt intake may help decrease high blood pressure in people with elevated levels.
Doctors commonly recommend a low-sodium diet for people with heart conditions, including heart failure. Kidney function declines when the heart is compromised, leading to sodium and water retention. Excess salt can cause fluid overload in people with heart failure and result in dangerous complications, such as shortness of breath.
What are the benefits of a low sodium diet?
Following a low-sodium diet may benefit health in several ways, such as:
Reduce Blood Pressure
As mentioned above, a low-sodium diet may help decrease blood pressure. Research has shown that transitioning to a low-sodium diet can lead to small yet significant changes in blood pressure, particularly in individuals with elevated levels.
Help Decrease Cancer Risk
High-salt diets may link to certain types of cancers, including that of the stomach. Studies have shown that high-salt diets can damage the stomach’s mucosal lining and elevate inflammation and the growth of H. Pylori bacteria, which may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
On the other hand, following a diet low in high sodium processed foods and rich in fruits and vegetables is linked with a lower risk of stomach cancer.
Improve Diet Quality
A lot of unhealthy food items are high in sodium. Fast food, frozen meals, and packaged items are filled with high amounts of salt and are also high in unhealthy fats and calories. Frequent consumption of these food items may connect to health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These high-salt foods are off-limits on a low-sodium diet, which may help improve an individual’s overall diet quality.
What are the excellent low sodium food options?
If one wants to follow a low-sodium diet, it’s essential to choose foods that are naturally low in sodium or contain limited amounts of added salt.
The following food list is low in sodium and safe to eat on a low-sodium diet:
- Include fresh and frozen vegetables such as greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers.
- Add grains and beans such as dried beans, brown rice, farro, quinoa and whole wheat pasta to your meal
- Eat fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, including berries, apples, bananas, and pears.
- Consume fresh or frozen meat and poultry such as chicken, turkey, or pork.
- Have fresh or frozen fish such as cod, sea bass, and tuna.
- Include starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and parsnips.
- Healthy fats include olive oil, avocado and avocado oil.
- Drink low-sodium soups such as low-sodium canned or homemade soups.
- Eat dairy products like milk, yogurt, unsalted butter and low-sodium cheeses.
- Enjoy bread and baked goods such as whole-wheat bread, low-sodium tortillas and unsalted crackers.
- Low-sodium condiments include vinegar, mayonnaise, low-sodium salad dressing, low-sodium sauces, and low-sodium beverages include tea, coffee, low-sodium vegetable juice, and water.
- Eat unsalted nuts, such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, and peanuts.
- Enjoy low-sodium snack foods such as unsalted pretzels, popcorn, and tortilla chips.
- Include low-sodium seasonings like garlic powder, no-salt blends, herbs and spices in your meal
- Eggs can also be included.
As mentioned above, low-sodium diets may help improve high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and overall diet quality. If you follow a low-sodium diet, choose fresh and avoid salty foods. Yet, too little sodium may have adverse health effects, and this diet is unnecessary for most people. But how would one know what is best? Talking to an expert is the correct answer.