What It Is

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. We need it for things our bodies do, such as moving muscles and balancing water. When you stick to a 2 gram (2,000 milligrams [mg]) way of eating, you will be lowering the foods you eat that have it.

Why Limit Salt Intake?

Eating this way can put off or lower high blood pressure and holding in excess water. These can happen with things like heart failure and kidney problems. The foods you need to watch are table salt, processed foods, dressings, seasonings, fast foods, and preserved foods. Just one teaspoon of salt has 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium.

Some processed foods are canned foods, frozen dinners, snack foods, bagged or boxed starchy foods (seasoned rice, instant mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese), baking mixes, deli meats and cheeses, sausages, and cured or smoked meats.

How to Eat This Way

Food Eat this... Not this...
Grains
  • Breads and rolls without salted tops, muffins
  • Ready-to-eat and cooked cereals
  • Unsalted crackers and breadsticks
  • Low-salt or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffing
  • All rice and pastas
  • Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted tops
  • Quick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixes
  • Common bread crumbs
  • Instant hot cereals
  • Pre-made rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes
Veggies
  • Most fresh, frozen, and low-salt canned veggies
  • Low-salt and salt-free veggie juices
  • Common canned veggies and juices, such as sauerkraut and pickled veggies
  • Frozen veggies with sauces
  • Pre-made potato and veggie mixes
Fruits
  • Most fresh, frozen, and canned fruits
  • All fruit juices
  • Fruits processed with salt or sodium
Milk
  • All milk, but limit to a total of 2 cups daily
  • All yogurt
  • Most low-salt cheeses, such as ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese
  • Malted and chocolate milk
  • Common and processed cheese, cheese spreads, and sauces
  • Buttermilk (no more than 1 cup per week)
Meats and Beans
  • Any fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and some shellfish
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Low-salt peanut butter
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Any smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry, such as bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, frankfurters, sausages, sardines, and anchovies
  • Frozen breaded meats
  • Salted nuts
Fats and Oils
  • Low-salt or unsalted butter and margarine
  • All plain oils, low-salt salad dressings
  • Oils mixed with other, high-salt items, such as salad dressing
Snacks and Condiments
  • Low-salt or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, condiments, and snack foods
  • Pepper, herbs, and spices; vinegar, lemon, or lime juice
  • Broth, soups, gravies, and sauces made from instant mixes or other high-salt items
  • Salted snack foods, olives
  • Meat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars
Drinks
  • Low-salt carbonated drinks
  • Commercially softened water

Tips

  • Make fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains (such as old-fashioned oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, barley, bulgur, and whole-wheat couscous) the base of the foods you eat.
  • Do not add salt to food when cooking or at the table. If food needs more flavor, get creative and try herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, lemon, lime, and vinegar also add flavor to foods.
  • Do not eat fast food—it tends to have a lot of added salt.
  • Salt is often used as a preservative. Fresh foods are lowest in salt. Buy fresh poultry, fish, meat, and veggies.
  • A good rule of thumb, when in the grocery store, all the aisles in the middle of the store have products with high salt. Often, all foods on the outside aisles are lower in salt.
  • Certain drugs may have salt, such as antacids and laxatives. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the ones that you take.
  • When eating out, choose meals that are lower in salt and ask that your food be made without any added salt.

Reading Food Labels

  • Do not eat foods that have more than 500 mg salt per serving, such as most soups and frozen dinners.
  • Don’t just check the list of items for the words sodium and salt—it may be disguised under other names like monosodium glutamate, brine, and broth.
  • Here are the meanings of some terms that you may see on foods:
    TermMeaning
    Sodium-freeLess than 5 mg per serving
    Very low sodium35 mg or less in each serving
    Low sodium140 mg or less in each serving
    Reduced sodiumAt least 25% less sodium in each serving than the listed food. If the food has 1,000 mg, the same food made with reduced sodium would have 750 mg. Food that isn't “low sodium.”
    Light in sodium50% less than in the main product
    “No Salt Added” and “Unsalted”No salt was added. But the food may still have sodium.