Most Americans eat far more than the recommended limit, but cutting back on salty food can be tough, especially if your palate has adjusted to a high-salt diet. Here are some ways to reduce the salt in your diet without sacrificing flavor.
Here in the U.S., we chronically oversalt our food. Whether we’re eating salty, processed foods or reaching for that salt shaker too often, all of that excess salt adds up. Too much salt makes us eat more and drink less water, and it puts us at risk for heart disease.
The recommended limit for salt is between 1500 mg and 2300 mg per day: between 3/4 and one teaspoon. The average American eats 3400 mg of salt per day, more than one-and-a-half times the highest recommended limit.
I cut way back on salt when I was pregnant to help ease pregnancy-related swelling. It was not easy at first, but over time I came up with a strategy and some tricks to make the transition more smooth. These are the things that helped me learn how to eat less salt.
1. Cut back gradually.
If you’ve been eating a lot of salt for a long period of time, your palate has likely adjusted. If you just cut the salt out of your food right away, it’s going to seem flavorless. Instead, try tapering the amount of salt you’re eating over a week or two until you reach your goals.
2. Hide the salt shaker.
This is a great first step when you’re tapering. Try not salting your food once it’s prepared. Almost all recipes already call for salt in some form, and shaking on even more salt isn’t doing us any favors.
If you really don’t feel ready to do this right away, try limiting how much salt you shake on. If you usually do three shakes, see if you can get by with two for a few days, then one, then get that shaker out of there.
3. Choose low-sodium soy sauce.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to use soy sauce more than table salt to add sodium to my dishes. We don’t always think of soy sauce as salt, but if you’re trying to get down to 2300 mg or less per day, soy sauce can be a big contributor.
Low-sodium soy sauce has about one third less sodium than traditional. Just make sure you’re not adding more low-sodium soy sauce to your food. Like the salt shaker, don’t reach for the soy sauce after you food is plated.
4. Cut back on processed foods.
Processed food tends to be high in salt for two reasons. First of all, salt is a cheap way to make things taste delicious. Salt is also a good preservative. Cutting out all packaged foods isn’t realistic for everyone, though, and that’s okay!
When you do buy packaged food, look for ones marked low-sodium or reduce sodium. And don’t let front-of-package labeling fool you. Turn that bag of chips over and read the nutrition label to see what percentage of your daily sodium is in that bag.
5. Cook at home.
You don’t have to give up all take-out forever when you cut back on salt, but cooking at home definitely helps you control how much salt is on your food. Restaurants love salt, because salt makes food taste good without adding much cost to a dish. The good news is, you can make home-cooked meals taste good with less salt!
6. Reach for the herbs.
Salt enhances your food’s flavor, but you can also add flavor by adding more fresh or dried herbs to your dishes. Try upping the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes while cutting back on the added salt. You may find that you didn’t need that added sodium in the first place!
7. Drop some acid.
Into your bowl! A squeeze of lemon juice or dash of vinegar was one of my favorite ways to compensate for the “missing” salt when I started cutting back. Acidic foods like citrus add a similar bite to your dishes, no sodium needed.
8. Choose low- or no-sodium broth.
Broth is a major culprit when it comes to added salt, but it doesn’t have to be! One of my favorite tricks for keeping the flavor while cutting the salt in my soups was to use no-sodium broth cubes, but use twice as many cubes as the package called for.
You can also use broth to add flavor to your grains, beans and stews. Almost any time you see water in a savory recipe, you can sub no-sodium broth for a flavor boost. This is really just a cheater’s way to add more herbs without having to chop more herbs.