The Low Sodium Diet: How-To, Benefits + Meal Plan

There is an abundance of popular weight loss diets and lifestyle eating patterns to choose from that many people suffer from choice paralysis.

However, although certain weight loss diets are controversial, with some health experts suggesting that they are effective and others strongly urging against attempting the fad diet, a low sodium diet is generally considered to be one of the healthiest, most sensible, and most sustainable lifestyle eating patterns.

But, what is a low sodium diet? What sorts of foods are found on low sodium diet menus or low sodium meal plans? What are some good options for a low sodium breakfast if you want to follow a low sodium diet?

In this low sodium diet guide, we will discuss what a low sodium diet entails, the benefits of low sodium diet meal plans, and foods to eat and avoid.

We will look at: 

  • What Is a Low Sodium Diet?
  • Benefits of a Low Sodium Diet
  • How to Follow a Low Sodium Diet
  • Foods to Avoid On a Low-Sodium Diet
  • Sample Low Sodium Diet Menu

Let’s get started!

Low sodium diet written out in salt grains.

What Is a Low Sodium Diet?

Although your body does need some sodium, the typical American diet is extremely high in sodium.

For example, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults limit their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, which is equal to one teaspoon of table salt.

Yet, according to research, Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. This is nearly 150% of the daily sodium recommendations.

A low sodium diet isn’t a rigidly-defined diet in the way that some weight loss diets have distinct sets of rules about foods you can and cannot eat, how many calories you should consume, or even what percentage of your calories should come from each of the three macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs).

Rather, low sodium diet meal plans limit daily sodium intake below the sodium recommendations.

A low-sodium diet usually limits daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg, which is about one-third less salt than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg and significantly lower than what the average American adult is actually consuming. 

The DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) is a specific low sodium diet plan, but a “low sodium diet“ is generally an umbrella term to encompass any dietary pattern that restricts or limits daily sodium intake.

Again, there is even laxity in the maximum sodium intake per day on a low sodium diet, but most low sodium diet menu plans hover around the 1500 mg of sodium per day level.

Low blood pressure written on a chalkboard with healthy foods surrounding it.

Benefits of a Low Sodium Diet

Here are some of the top low sodium diet benefits:

#1: Reducing Blood Pressure

Sodium is an important electrolyte involved in muscle contractions, conducting electrical impulses in the heart, and regulating fluid balance, but consuming too much salt in the diet is associated with adverse health effects.

Excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure and can tax the heart over time.

A low sodium diet can address hypertension (high blood pressure) by limiting sodium intake, as nearly half of all American adults suffer from hypertension (and similar rates in other Western countries).

Low sodium spelled out on a keyboard.

#2: Limiting Processed Foods In Favor of Nutrient-Dense Foods

A low sodium menu plan, by nature, limits processed foods since processed food products tend to be high in sodium due to lots of added salt to boost flavor or improve shelf stability.

The healthiest low sodium diet avoids not only high sodium processed foods, but also those that have added sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, and other chemical ingredients and fillers that are found in many unhealthy foods in the Western diet.

Instead, a healthy low sodium menu plan should focus on nourishing, filling foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, eggs, seeds, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. 

#3: Supporting Weight Loss

When you eat high-fiber foods, or foods high in protein or healthy fats, you are more satiated, which can decrease caloric intake and manage insulin levels, both of which can help make a low sodium diet plan good for weight loss.

A person celebrating on a scale.

#4: Flexibility

Unlike many weight loss diets, even when you are following low sodium meal plans, you will find that a low sodium diet menu is very flexible and doesn’t confine you to having to eat certain foods or certain macros or numbers of calories per meal. 

You don’t even have to follow a low sodium diet meal plan for weight loss; you can maintain your weight or gain weight if you want to by adjusting your caloric intake.

The low sodium diet is a lifestyle approach to eating, not a regimented weight loss diet, even though you can lose weight on a low sodium diet if that is your goal.

How to Follow a Low Sodium Diet

When following low sodium diet menus, it’s essential to read the nutrition label on any packaged food to look at the sodium content. 

A nutrition label.

There are labels used on low sodium food products to categorize the sodium content, including the following:

  • Salt/Sodium-Free Foods: Must contain less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Very Low Sodium Foods: Contain a maximum of 35 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Low Sodium Foods: Contain no more than 149 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Reduced Sodium Foods: reduced-sodium foods are tricky because the labeling only requires that the reduced sodium food version contains at least 25% less sodium than the “regular version, “ but the specific amount of sodium in the food can be anything. For example, reduced-sodium soy sauce is still going to have a ton of sodium per serving; the only stipulation is that it has at least 25% less sodium than regular soy sauce.
  • Lightly Salted or Light In Sodium Foods: Like reduced-sodium foods, “lightly salted foods” or “foods light in sodium” in product packing means that the specific sodium content in the food can be any number of milligrams of sodium per serving, but the lightly salted version has at least 50% less sodium the than the regular food product.
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted Foods: unsalted foods or “no salt added foods“ may contain natural sodium found in the foods (for example, spinach, poultry, egg whites, etc. contain some natural sodium), but there is no additional salt added to the food when it is prepared or manufactured.
A nutrition label.

To maximize the health benefits of a low sodium diet meal plan and to reap the greatest health benefits, choose whole, natural, unprocessed foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are free from refined and processed ingredients. 

For example, it’s better to choose one medium apple over 1/2 cup of applesauce and lean chicken breast over frozen chicken nuggets.

Also, try to choose a variety of foods every day on your low sodium diet meal plan rather than reverting to the same few fruits, vegetables, lean protein choices, etc. 

This will help provide you with a well-rounded swath of micronutrients to optimize your overall nutrition and health. 

When you do eat processed foods, try to choose foods that contain less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. 

Foods to Avoid On a Low-Sodium Diet

About 70% or more of the sodium in the diet comes from processed foods rather than from salting your food before eating it. 

Canned food.

The following foods are particularly high in sodium and should be avoided on a low-sodium diet:

  • Fast food, frozen dinners, processed meats, restaurant food, pizza, Chinese takeout, etc. 
  • Salty Snacks: Chips, popcorn, pretzels, salted nuts, cheese crackers, tater tots, pork rinds, etc. 
  • Salted Canned and Jarred Products: Canned soup, pickles, canned meats like spam, canned chili, refried beans, etc.  Low-sodium versions may be ok.
  • Processed Foods: Instant mashed potatoes, or pancake and waffle mixes, hot cocoa mix, V8 juice, soy sauce, canned tomato sauce, salted peanut butter, sauerkraut, teriyaki sauce, salted margaritas, salted butter, sausage, jerky, bacon, etc. 
  • Salty Dairy Products like salty cheese and cottage cheese

Sample Low-Sodium Diet Menu

Here is a sample low-sodium diet meal plan:

Yogurt and berries.
  • Low Sodium Breakfast: Greek yogurt with blueberries, raspberries, and unsalted slivered almonds. 
  • Low-Sodium Lunch: Quinoa grain bowl with baked chicken breast, avocado, veggies, and lime juice.
  • Snack: Melon and unsalted nuts.
  • Low-Sodium Dinner: Grilled salmon with sesame seed crust and traybake of sweet potato, parsnips, asparagus, and onions.
  • Snack: Apple with unsalted almond butter.

Ultimately, trying to follow a low sodium diet plan helps you establish lifelong healthy eating habits, teaches you the importance of reading food labels, and helps you learn appropriate serving sizes, all of which can help improve your eating habits and weight management for life.

For more information on the DASH diet, click here.

Healthy diets spelled out in blocks with healthy food surrounding it.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “The Low Sodium Diet: How-To, Benefits + Meal Plan”

  1. Thank you this article was very helpful and interesting.I haven’t got any weight problems just tinnitus and hearing issues that I think are partly caused by water retention so your article is just what I need and I will follow your diet tips and hopefully get some great results 👍👍

    Reply

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