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What is sodium?

Sodium is a mineral that is necessary for good health and is present in all foods.  Your body must have a balance of sodium and water at all times.  Most people eat more sodium than they need. Sodium is part of salt. Therefore, if you need to limit your sodium, you need to limit your intake of salt.

Sources of Sodium

The sodium in our diet comes from three main sources:
  • Table salt is the most common source of sodium in our diet. Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. One teaspoon of salt has 2000 milligrams of sodium.
  • Processed foods have large amounts of sodium. These include easy-to-prepare box mixes, frozen dinners, luncheon meats and many canned items. Soups, vegetables, pork and beans, and tomato products are a few examples. Many people do not know that processed foods like ready-to-eat cereals, breads and baked goods also can be high in sodium.
  • Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. Unsalted, unprocessed foods usually have low sodium content. Most foods in your diet should come from this group. Examples are listed in this handout.

General Guidelines

  • Do not add salt to your foods when cooking or at the table.
  • Avoid seasoned salts. These include onion salt, and celery salt, "lite" salt, "low sodium" salt, and "sea salt". Accent, meat tenderizers and lemon pepper should also be avoided.
  • Use sodium free seasonings and spices instead of salt.  Be careful if you choose a salt substitute. Many substitutes have large amounts of potassium in them which can cause medical problems for some people. "Lite salts" contain sodium in smaller amounts, but are still too high for people who need to restrict sodium. Ask your doctor if a salt substitute is okay for you.
  • Learn how to read labels to make good low sodium choices.
  • Ingredients are listed by weight, in order from highest to lowest.  Food additives high in sodium include salt, baking powder, brine, or any additive that says the word "sodium". Look for the words monosodium glutamate or di-sodium phosphate on the label.
  • Include a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods in your diet.

An Important Note about Processed Foods

  • Many fat-reduced or calorie-reduced products are not lower in sodium than the regular product. In fact, many times they are higher. Examples of this include turkey-ham and turkey-bacon.  When processed foods are used, read the label to make a smart choice.
  • Once sodium is in a food, it cannot easily be taken out. Rinsing or boiling meats and other foods, like sauerkraut or canned vegetables, does not significantly decrease the sodium content. It is best to avoid these products unless they are salt-free.
  • Restaurant foods are often very high in sodium. Very few restaurant foods are appropriate for a low sodium diet. Ask your dietitian for more information if you often eat in restaurants.

Low Sodium Sample Menu


  • One cup milk
  • Orange juice
  • One poached egg
  • One slice of toast with 1 teaspoon margarine and jelly
  • Banana
  • One cup frosted shredded wheat squares


  • Grilled chicken sandwich (3 oz. fresh grilled chicken, 1 Tbsp mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato slice on a whole wheat roll)
  • Unsalted potato chips
  • Carrot sticks
  • Apple


  • One cup milk
  • 3 oz. roast beef
  • Baked potato
  • Steamed broccoli with lemon
  • Dinner roll
  • 3 tsp. margarine
  • Peach slices
  • 2 sugar cookies (homemade with no added salt)


  • Unsalted popcorn
  • Fruit cocktail

Low Sodium Food Guidelines

Food Group

Foods lower in sodium.  Choose these more often:

Foods higher in sodium.  Choose these less often:

Breads, cereals, rice and pasta

Bread, bagels, English muffins
Dinner rolls
Cereal with <360mg sodium per serving
Low sodium crackers and chips

Canned pasta
Fried rice
Rice/Noodle side dish mixes
Cereal with >360mg sodium per serving
Snack crackers/chips


All fresh, frozen or canned without salt
Canned vegetables   and tomato products with “No Added Salt”
Low sodium vegetable or tomato juice

Instant potatoes
Canned vegetables and tomato products
Frozen vegetables in sauces and gravies
Tomato and vegetable juices
Onion Rings

Milk, yogurt, cheese

Milk (up to 2 cups/day)
Cheese containing < 60mg per ounce
Ice cream/sherbet
Frozen yogurt
Ricotta cheese
Cooked pudding

Aged cheese, such as cheddar, Colby, monterey jack
Processed cheeses (American, Velveeta)
Cheese spreads
Cottage cheese
Instant pudding mix

Meat, fish, poultry, beans, eggs and nuts

Lean fresh meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey and fish
Lunch meat with <250mg of sodium per serving
Low sodium canned meats and fish
Unsalted nuts and seeds

Processed, cured meats such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, sausage, bacon, ham
Canned meats or fish
Corned beef
Salted nuts and seeds
Meats w/ breading or gravy


Vegetable oils
No > 4 tsp of butter or margarine per day
Unsalted butter or margarine
No > 2 Tbsp mayo per day

Bacon or other salted pork fats
Commercial salad dressings
Packaged and canned gravies and sauces

Desserts and Sweets

Honey, jelly, syrup
Hard Candy
Cakes, cookies, pies (limit to one per day)

Frozen cake, pie or pastry products
Desserts made with salted nuts


Herbal Tea
Tap water

Sports drinks (Gatorade/Powerade)
Instant cocoa mix

Additional Tips

  • Season your foods with herbs and spices for added flavor.
  • Eat more homemade foods that are made from scratch.
  • You will find foods with less sodium if you shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
  • Avoid canned soups and frozen entrees with more than 500mg of sodium per serving.


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