Navigate Up

Heart Center - A-Z Index

#
J
Q
X
Z

Print This Page

Low-salt diet

Alternate Names

Low-sodium diet; Salt restriction

Salt and Your Diet

Your body needs salt to work properly. Salt contains sodium. Sodium helps your body control many functions. Too much sodium in your diet can be bad for you. For most people, dietary sodium comes from salt that is in or added to their food.

If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, you may have to limit how much salt you eat every day. Even people with normal blood pressure will have lower (and healthier) blood pressure if they lower how much salt they eat.

Dietary sodium is measured in milligrams (mg). Your doctor may tell you to eat no more than 2,300 mg a day when you have these conditions. For some people, 1,500 mg a day is an even better goal.

Limiting Salt in Your Diet

Eating a variety of foods every day can help you limit salt. Try to eat a balanced diet.

Buy fresh vegetables and fruits whenever possible. They are naturally low in salt. Canned foods often contain salt to preserve the color of the food and keep it looking fresh. For this reason, it is better to buy fresh foods. Also buy:

  • Fresh meats, chicken or turkey, and fish
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits

Look for these words on labels: low-sodium, sodium-free, no salt added, sodium-reduced, or unsalted. Check all labels for how much salt foods contain per serving.

Ingredients are listed in order of the amount the food contains. Avoid foods that list salt near the top of the list of ingredients. A product with less than 100 mg of salt per serving is good.

See also: How to read food labels

Stay away from foods that are always high in salt. Some common ones are:

  • Processed foods, such as cured or smoked meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage, bologna, ham, and salami
  • Anchovies, olives, pickles, and sauerkraut
  • Soy and Worcestershire sauces, tomato and other vegetable juices, and most cheeses
  • Many bottled salad dressings and salad dressing mixes
  • Most snack foods, such as chips, crackers, and others

When you cook, replace salt with other seasonings. Pepper, garlic, herbs, and lemon are good choices. Avoid packaged spice blends. They often contain salt.

Use garlic and onion powder, not garlic and onion salt. Do not eat foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG).

When you go out to eat, stick to steamed, grilled, baked, boiled, and broiled foods with no added salt, sauce, or cheese. If you think the restaurant might use MSG, ask them not to add it to your order.

Use oil and vinegar on salads. Add fresh or dried herbs. Eat fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert, when you have dessert. Take the salt shaker off your table. Replace it with a salt-free seasoning mix.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist what antacids and laxatives contain little or no salt, if you need these medicines. Some have a lot of salt in them.

Home water softeners add salt to water. If you have one, limit how much tap water you drink. Drink bottled water instead.

Ask your doctor if a salt substitute is safe for you. Many contain a lot of potassium. This may be harmful if you have certain medical conditions or if you are taking certain medicines. However, if extra potassium in your diet would not be harmful to you, a salt substitute is a good way to lower the amount of sodium in your diet.

References

American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96. 

Heimburger DC. Nutrition’s interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, SchaferAI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 220.

Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, LibbyP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2011:chap 48. 

Updated: 9/6/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com