What is a Low Sodium Diet?

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Are you interested in trying out the low sodium diet? Has the diet been recommended to you and you do not know where to start or are you simply trying to adopt the diet for a healthier living?

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A low sodium diet is basically aimed at limiting sodium intake from the food we eat on a day to day basis. Sodium is mainly found in salt. An estimate reveals that a normal adult takes up to 5 teaspoons or more, of salt per day. This only happens with salt. There are other foods that contain plenty of sodium and we eat them daily. Sodium is also found naturally in foods, in processed foods where it is added. The food does not even need to taste salty. Most canned foods, processed food and convenience foods contain a lot of sodium. In fast food restaurants, most foods are found to contain plenty of sodium as well.

Since there is so much sodium around us, does that mean that it is harmful to our bodies?

Before we look at whether sodium is harmful to our bodies, let us first, let us look at the uses of sodium in our bodies. Sodium has a number of uses in our bodies. These uses includes:-

  • Controlling fluid balance. This is one of its main uses.
  • Maintaining blood volume and blood pressure.

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Too much sodium

Too much sodium in our bodies could cause a lot of problems. To start with, accumulation of sodium in our bodies brings about the accumulation of fluids. These fluids end up being harmful to our health, or rather, they end up causing a lot of complications.

The accumulation of fluids in our body will bring heart problems, characterized by heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the body has too much fluid, therefore raising blood volume and causing high blood pressure. This ends up overwhelming the heart. A lot of fatalities have cured due to heart failure.

The fluid also settles in your lungs and in your legs causing them to swell. This fluid is also known as edema. This fluid is not supposed to accumulate in your body.

There are, however, recommendations that will greatly help us to know how much sodium gets into our bodies. This is especially if we are serious about taking a low sodium diet. These recommendations could also be used by people who have had cases of hypertension or want to avoid such incidences.

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Recommendations:

  • The recommended amount of salt taken in a day should be less that 2000 mg. some believe that 1500 mg is a safe bet.
  • Get rid of the salt shaker. We want to eliminate instances where you will take salt. So instead of salt as a form of flavor, you can use herbs and spices. You can also use lemon, lime, pineapple juice and vinegar for meat.
  • Avoid additives like soy sauce, garlic salt and onion salt.
  • Try as much as possible to eat home cooked meals. These meals should also be cooked using fresh ingredients. Cooking your meals is not only fun because you get to experiment with various foods, but it guarantees you a healthy diet.
  • You can substitute salt with potassium but you will have to consult your doctor or dietitian. This is especially if you are on a low potassium diet.
  • If you are just joining this diet plan and are on medication that contains sodium, it would also be wise to talk to your doctor for advice.
  • Too much water should be avoided because most water contains sodium.
  • Eliminate salty foods in your diet. This also goes for fast foods, canned foods, processed foods and the like.
  • The label. Anytime you are buying processed foods, make sure you read the label for sodium. Always go for the lowest number of grams. Mostly, the number of milligrams is accompanied by the percentage which compared to the other ingredients could be fairly low. However, if one serving gives you 600 mg of sodium, then the next serving means you will have taken 1200 milligrams. So learn to read the label and always do so carefully.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables in plenty. The more fruits and vegetables you can eat in a day, the better. These will not only give you the needed nourishment but some of them contain vitamins that are known to combat conditions like hypertension.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight. This means that if you are overweight then the best thing to do is to cut weight. You might want to consider doing some exercise or taking up a healthy weight loss diet that is low in sodium.
  • Processed foods also include cured meat and poultry injected with sodium. Read the label and see how much sodium they contained.
  • It would also be wise to look for food composition books that give the amount of sodium available in each food.

We have touched on some foods that contain sodium.

Are there other foods that contain high levels of sodium?

Yes.

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They are as follows:

  • Salted nuts
  • Canned entrees
  • Frozen bread meats such as pizza
  • Canned beans, but these have to contain salt
  • Canned vegetables, hence the emphasis on fresh veggies and fruits.
  • Olives and pickles.
  • Vegetables that are made of ham.
  • Pasta that is commercially made.
  • Soups, especially canned soups, dehydrated soups and broth.
  • Salted butter and margarine.
  • Seasoned ramen mixes.
  • A majority of ketchup and mustard.

It seems like most foods, or close to all foods contains salt. The good thing about this situation is that the same food can be made without salt or sodium in them. You only need to look carefully and you will always find foods that are low in sodium.

 

Eating out

Eating out can be tricky, especially with this diet because almost everything in a restaurant or a fast food joint contains sodium. Getting the right dish for you could be tricky and you might end up taking more sodium than required which may bring about problems.

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Here are a few pointers with eating out.

  • Research on the restaurants that will give what you want. These are restaurants allow special food preparation. This means you should avoid places like fast food chains because most do not allow such privileges.
  • Always ask whether they have low-sodium menu choices. You can also ask them how they prepare their food.
  • In case there is little or no alternative, knowing your food well will help a lot. This will allow you to know how much helping n you are going to have with every type of food. Small servings will help a lot.
  • When it comes to dairy products, low sodium cheese works well. It would also help a lot if you went for natural cheese. Cream cheese also works well.
  • When dealing with appetizers, do not go for soups or broths. These mostly contain high amounts of salt. You can always ask for fresh bread and rolls provided they food not have salty buttery crusts.
  • On desserts, fruits, gelatin or plain cakes are a good choice.

These are just a few pointers on what you are supposed to do when eating out. Knowing what to do when it is time to eat out will help you maintain a healthy low sodium diet.

 

How about Potassium

Potassium has been named before as an alternative for sodium. This will, however, have to be followed by your doctor’s advice. If you are on a low potassium diet, most probably this is not an option for you.

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Why potassium?

Potassium helps ‘kill’ the effects of sodium in the body. Remember, excess sodium in the body causes fluids to accumulate in the body, therefore, leading hypertension and eventually heart failure among other effects such as swelling of legs. Potassium, on the other hand, prevents hypertension and heart failure. The more potassium you take, the more the body expels sodium.

Potassium also helps in softening blood vessels, therefore reducing the risk of blood pressure. It is recommended that you take about 4700 mg of potassium every day. While a lot of people do not reach those levels on a daily basis, as a person who is trying to keep up a low sodium diet, then it would be wise to put some effort and make sure you get the right amount of potassium.

That being said, there are foods that are rich in potassium. These foods are as follows:

  • Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Lima beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Oranges and their juice
  • Tuna
  • Apricots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White beans, among others.

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Does that mean you won’t have fun eating food?

This change needs to be gradual. If you are used to add salt on your food then you’re definitely going to make a slow transition by reducing the levels of salt as you go until you are finally left with the true flavors of the foods you are eating. There is also the option of adding spices and other flavors that are low in sodium.

Your taste will change eventually and you will get used to eating food without salt. Discipline is however needed to achieve a full low-sodium-diet. You will also need to be creative and experiment to see what combination works well for you.

 

Summary:

  • Read your labels carefully.
  • Make an effort of knowing the amount of sodium each food contains. Most of the information can be sourced from the internet.
  • When eating out opt for a restaurant that can prepare foods according to your request and can choose alternatives.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook your own meals using fresh vegetables and make it a habit.
  • Potassium could be used instead of sodium.
  • Talk to your dietitian if you are not sure where to start or if you think the diet could influence the way some medication works in your body.

The low sodium diet is not that hard to achieve. With a lot of information on the internet, this diet can actually be comfortably maintained. It is also not harsh on your finances as most of the foods are inexpensive and easily available . The benefits of the diet are also something to think about especially if you really want to adopt this kind of diet.

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