Bloating, high blood pressure, extra calories… too much sodium in your diet can lead to all three, none of which are conducive to weight loss. Experts recommend 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, or 1,500 if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, are African American, or 51 and older. That means about half the U.S. population should, theoretically, cap it at 1,500 mg, but it’s pretty much impossible unless you do all your own cooking and use very few packaged foods. In fact, you’d be surprised how easy it is to blow right by these levels. (Check out Why You Should Shake Your Salt Habit to learn why everyone should cut back on sodium.)
You can slash your intake by:
Reading labels. It’s eye-opening how many foods are laden with sodium, from your go-to whole-wheat bread to your favorite salad dressing to your usual breakfast cereal. Make it a habit to check the label for sodium content before putting anything in your grocery cart. Choose foods that are lower in sodium in each category, or even better, opt for “no salt added” (canned tomatoes, canned beans, grain mixes).
Be judicious with the salt shaker. Americans get most of their sodium from processed foods—cold cuts and canned and frozen foods—and not from the salt shaker. In fact, if you use fewer of these foods and cook with little salt, then it’s fine to add a very light sprinkle of salt at the table. The impact of the crystals hitting your tongue gives you as much of a salt hit as many times that amount cooked into a food. Another option: lite salt, which contains less than 50 percent of the sodium in regular table salt. Otherwise, rely on salt-free seasonings to enhance the taste of your food (more on this below).
Try alternate flavorings. Got a recipe that calls for salt? Get creative. Find salt-free seasoning blends in the spice aisle. Or keep some fresh or dried herbs at home to use instead; onion powder, rosemary, ginger, basil and a host of other herbs and spices can kick up the flavor without adding sodium. Lemon and lime juice can also provide plenty of zing. (Not sure which herbs to use with which foods? Best Life chef Sidra Forman has some tips for you.)
Swap it out. Not all packaged foods are created equal. Soups, frozen meals, condiments and even breads and cereals can be found in low-sodium or no-salt-added options that taste just as good. Be religious about checking labels and you’ll come to recognize the brands that are better for you.