A low sodium diet might be recommended for individuals with ascites (fluid build up in the abdominal cavity) which can occur in people with liver failure. If you have ascites, ask your doctor before initiating a low sodium diet to ensure it’s an appropriate treatment for you. Once you get your doctor’s approval, follow a low sodium diet using these four steps.
1. CHOOSE WHOLE > PROCESSED FOODS
Processed foods contain significantly more sodium than whole foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. However, choosing whole over processed foods can be challenging if you live in a part of the country that doesn’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Depending on where you live, fresh produce can also be expensive. If price is a factor that’s preventing you from consuming fresh produce, try looking up a local farmer’s market to purchase in season, fresh fruits and veggies which will be cheaper than their grocery store counterparts. Another great alternative is to purchase frozen produce as these foods typically don’t contain added sodium-just double check the nutrition facts label to make sure.
2. SKIMP ON THE SALT
One way to reduce your sodium intake is by using fresh herbs, spices and citrus to add flavor to your meals instead of salt. Try sautéing mushrooms in olive oil and thyme. You can also try marinating chicken with lemon and rosemary (Yum!).
3. LOOK AT THE LABEL
Look at the nutrition facts label in processed and convenient foods to check the sodium content. Ideally, we would make all our meals and snacks from scratch, but since that’s not always practical, monitor the sodium content in the processed foods you consume by reading the nutrition facts label. A good goal is to consume less than 2000mg of sodium in total throughout the day.
4. DON’T BE FAST, CHEAP, OR EASY
They say, you are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, or easy. Most restaurant meals and fast foods are loaded with sodium. Avoid these foods by planning ahead as much as possible. When being mindful of sodium content, meal prepping all of your meals and snacks for the week can dramatically reduce your total sodium intake. Your leftovers from the night before will likely contain a lot less sodium than most meals bought outside your home, so bring your leftovers to work instead of buying your lunch out.
SUBSTITUTES FOR HIGH-SODIUM CONTAINING FOOD
Not sure which foods are high in sodium? Check out this chart for alternatives to common high sodium containing foods.
High Sodium Foods
- Deli meats
- Frozen pre-made dinners/meals
- Canned beans
- Salted nuts
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Canned soups
- Breakfast cereals or other processed breakfast foods (such as pancake mixes)
- Condiments (such as soy sauce, marinated products)
- Processed cheese (such as American cheese or cheese spreads)
- Pasta sauceHome-made pasta sauce
Low Sodium Substitutes
- Oven-roasted turkey, chicken breast
- Home-cooked dinners
- Low sodium canned beans rinsed thoroughly, dry beans
- Unsalted raw nuts
- In season fresh fruits/vegetables, frozen fruits/vegetables, thoroughly rinsed low-sodium canned fruits/vegetables
- Soups made from scratch
- Raw oats, homemade breakfast foods
- Cook with fresh herbs, spices and lemon or limes
- Mozzarella, Swiss cheese
- Home-made pasta sauce
Following a low sodium diet can be challenging at first but once you get the hang of it, the diet will become easier to maintain. If this list seems too daunting, start by tackling one of these approaches and slowly work your way to mastering all of them. Decreasing your sodium intake a little is still better than not decreasing it at all.
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Brittany Roman-Green is a licensed dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer. She is the owner of her private practice in Mountain View, California and specializes in gut and liver conditions.
**NOTE: Always speak with your doctor before starting a new diet to make sure that the diet change is appropriate for your medical condition and treatment.