What Can I Eat on a Low Sodium Diet
You have been told to go on a low sodium diet. Great. What does that mean? Can I just throw away my salt shaker? Can I ever go to a restaurant again? Isn’t Sea Salt a low sodium salt? Bacon doesn’t count, right? It is confusing. It is overwhelming. Sadly most doctors have very little to offer you in the way of resources and answers, but I am hopefully here to help. I want to help you understand the answers to: What can I eat on a low sodium diet. Hopefully you read part one of this series, How do I Start a Low Sodium Diet? If not read, read it now, I will wait.
To take a first step on the path of a low sodium journey, before you clear your pantries, before you enroll in cooking classes, before you do anything, start by simply cutting the portions you eat at every meal in half. By default you will decrease the amount of sodium. It is a simple step. It is a practical step. You can do it without causing too much life disruption, and it will help.
Let’s be honest with one another here. You can’t afford to throw out all of your foodstuffs. You can’t afford to run up a huge bill on new low sodium groceries. You need to wade into this life instead of diving in head first, or to tell the truth, it won’t work, and you won’t stick to it. Ok. Deep breath in…and, exhale. There you go. Now lets figure out the next step to take.
Let’s talk about menu planning.
You need to establish who in your household will be going low sodium. Personally my household has all gone low sodium (although they can still request some regular items if they wish). Most of the time they don’t even know they are going low sodium. If people come to my house to eat, they also will be eating low sodium. If I cook a dish to bring to a party, it will be low sodium. I have a family of five people to feed in our house. I am not a short order cook who will prepare separate meals for each person. It costs too much in time and groceries. You should not have to do this either. Everyone could benefit from lowering their sodium intake, especially children who can’t cook for themselves yet.
It didn’t happen overnight, my family has all been on this journey with me. It is a gradual process that happens and over time people are used to the new habits. Over a period of time you will build up your recipes, products, and skills. Replacing heavily salt laden and unhealthy items with new lower and no sodium items, and you will celebrate each small victory along the way.
Dust off those cooking skills.
One truth about the low sodium lifestyle, is that is easier to do if you prepare most of your food from scratch at home. In your kitchen, you can have total control over the ingredients, spices, amounts, and so on to ensure you are doing what needs to be done to protect your health. When you deal with dining out, or eating processed or pre-prepared foods, you don’t have this control.
You don’t have to be an Iron Chef to do this. You might have rudimentary skills. You may be awful, but you can get better. Almost every cooking technique can now be learned on Google. From boiling water, to butchering an entire pig. There are many step by step photo guides, to really simple videos on YouTube. In your area there might also be many cooking classes taught at community colleges, technical schools, through local parks and rec boards, and even many retail and restaurants may have offerings. Turn cooking into a hobby! It will help you own your new lifestyle, make it a challenge, and add some spice into your life! (See what I did there?).
Don’t break the bank buying cooking tools and pots and pans. Try your local dollar stores, discount donation stores, and garage sales. If you are an online shopper, there are deals on Craig’s List and Ebay. You don’t need a Pro Kitchen, but you do need a few basic, quality tools.
Learn new styles of cooking. Frying is not so much a healthy technique. You will want to learn how to broil, roast, steam, saute, and grill. You will want to lose salt without losing taste. You will need to build in flavors with herbs, spices, sauces, and marinades (I help you with that one here).
How to shop for food.
Make sure you are a pro at reading labels. I go over the basics of nutrition labels here. An overly simple shopping guideline is to do a majority of the shopping from the perimeter of the store. The fresh sections. You will have to be more discerning and discriminating against the processed foods. You will be able to find foods and products, and as you find ones you like that are low in sodium, you can replace those items in your pantries and cupboards. Please donate or pass along any unopened boxed and canned goods to your local food shelf. I have a whole section here on my blog where I do reviews of products I have found tested and tried. You can find them all here. I also list out any I find on my pinterest page here.
Many stores are starting to carry a larger assortment of low sodium products (Finally!!!) but because each store differs in it’s assortment of brands and items it carries, you may find yourself making a few small trips to many local stores. I tend to go to five stores to get all of my “must haves” in the course of every couple months. There is also a list of goods I get from Amazon and HealthyHeartMarket.com. I used the healthy heart market when I started researching products to see what brands were actually doing low sodium items. Once I figured that, I could scour the shelves of my local grocery stores. I will warn you that the first few times doing that will definitely turn a simple shop into a longer time commitment as you incorporate reading all the labels. Store employees have wondered if I’m a price shopper from another store since I meticulously look through so many items.
Can I still eat at Restaurants?
The quick answer is yes. Although just like the reading of nutrition labels, you will need to educate yourself about the sodium content of the menu items of the restaurants you want to visit. I have a section of my blog where I go through the menus of these restaurants for you and identify what we can eat. You can see all of them here. I also have tips from Dietitians on how to stay low sodium when you are eating out. You can check that out here.
In restaurants where they have a chef that can cook from scratch, there are better options for a chef to accommodate your health needs. In many chain restaurants however, that is not the case as most of the food is prepared and frozen and shipped to the locations where the cooks will simply heat them up and serve. Here are my best tips for a basic survival guide when you go out to restaurants.
Let me know what tips and tricks you have, or please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. I answer every one to the best of my ability. Welcome to the low sodium life!