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Easy ways to cut sodium intake

October 27, 2008|Emily Sohn and Francesca Lunzer Kritz | Sohn and Kritz are freelance writers.

Cutting down on sodium isn't easy, but it's possible -- and your taste buds will adapt. Here are tips from sources such as the National Institutes of Health and American Heart Assn.:

At home

* On your own or with your doctor, set your target daily sodium consumption and keep track of how many milligrams you're taking in.

* Treat condiments as you would table salt: Use sparingly.

* Cook rice, pasta and oatmeal without salt. Make these items from scratch instead of buying instant versions.

* Instead of salt, flavor your food with spices, herbs, lemon, lime, vinegar or salt-free seasoning blends.

* Running water over canned tuna, salmon and vegetables, feta cheese and capers can reduce sodium by 30%, according to research by Consumer Reports on Health.

* Cut down on the salt you add: Start by adding half as much salt as a recipe calls for. Sprinkle half the salt you normally would on your food.

* Limit chips, pretzels and other salty snacks. Snack on unsalted nuts and seeds.

* Add low-sodium recipes to your repertoire. The American Heart Assn. has a low-salt cookbook.

* Switch to eating more of your meals at home. Restaurant food, especially fast food, is notoriously high in sodium.

* When they're available, choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium or no-salt versions of foods and condiments (but avoid even the lower-sodium versions of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce).

* Make these changes gradually, over a period of weeks or months.


At the store

* Avoid frozen entrees, canned soups and salad dressings that are high in sodium. Choose fresh produce rather than canned, or low-sodium canned products.

* Limit your intake of cured foods (such as bacon and ham) and foods packed in brine (such as pickles, olives and sauerkraut). Know that many breads, cereals and even oatmeal can be high in sodium, as can cheese (including cottage cheese).

* Compare brands. They can vary significantly in sodium content, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.


At restaurants

* When dining out, request that food be prepared without added salt. Many fine-dining restaurants can steer you to lower-sodium options. Fast-food restaurants keep nutrient data online and often on-site.


Other tips

Educate yourself on the Food and Drug Administration-defined terms :

Sodium-free: less than 5 mg. per serving.

Very low sodium: 35 mg. or less per serving.

Low-sodium or low-salt: 140 mg. or less per serving.

Light in sodium: at least 50% less sodium per serving than the same food with no sodium reduction.

Lightly salted: at least 50% less sodium per serving than reference amount.

Reduced or less sodium: at least 25% less per serving than reference food.

Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt: without added salt, although the food still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself.

Individual foods labeled "healthy" must not exceed 480 mg. of sodium per reference amount, and "meal type" products must not exceed 600 mg. of sodium per serving size.

* A U.S. Department of Agriculture list of foods and their salt content can be found with a Web search of the words "sodium content of foods USDA."


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