Beginning the low-salt journey

A week ago my car­di­ol­o­gist put me on a low salt and restrict­ed liq­uids diet.

Yes­ter­day was my first trip to the gro­cery store since this life-chang­ing event, and I have to say I’m both depressed and frus­trat­ed by the lim­it­ed options avail­able to me and the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans like me who need to reduce their sodi­um intake.

Pack­aged foods? For the most part for­get about them! A full can of Chick­en Noo­dle soup has 2225 mg of sodi­um in it, which is near­ly 1.5 times my dai­ly allowance, with­out crack­ers, and pret­ty close to the fed­er­al rec­om­men­da­tion for dai­ly sodi­um intake for healthy adults. (The nutri­tion label says it makes 2.5 serv­ings, but who serves it that way?)

Time to say good­bye to Mac and Cheese (and prob­a­bly cheese in gen­er­al), hash, canned spaghet­ti sauce, sausages (includ­ing hot dogs) and almost any­thing bread­ed. Chips are out too. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, there are taco shells avail­able with no sodi­um, but taco sauces are loaded with salt. (A com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is my wife’s gar­lic aller­gy, we’ve only found one brand of taco sauce/salsa that does­n’t have gar­lic in it.)

This was a fair­ly quick trip, but I did­n’t see a lot of low-sodi­um options on the shelf, and if the store has a low-sodi­um sec­tion, I did­n’t find it. Many canned veg­eta­bles have salt added, I’ll have to check the frozen food aisle to see if that is a way to save on sodium.

Fast food? Same prob­lem. A Quar­ter Pounder with cheese is 730 mg of sodi­um. Leav­ing off the cheese, ketchup and pick­le cuts that down to 460 mg. McDon­ald’s rec­om­men­da­tions for those on a low-sodi­um diet sug­gest order­ing it with­out the grill sea­son­ing (salt and pep­per), but their nutri­tion cal­cu­la­tor does­n’t say how much sodi­um that saves. And for­get the fries!

So I’ll be doing even more of my own cook­ing, with lots of fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits.

For­tu­nate­ly, I have a lot of expe­ri­ence mak­ing my own breads, and most bread recipes are already low­er in salt than most pack­aged breads, and I can prob­a­bly cut back on what salt I do use when baking.

Like­wise, I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with herbs and spices when cook­ing so I’ve already got a num­ber of options for adding fla­vor with­out adding salt.

I will con­tin­ue to doc­u­ment my jour­ney, look­ing for ways to con­tin­ue to eat some of my favorite foods while stay­ing with­in my dai­ly sodi­um budget.

But Bette Davis’s line in “All About Eve” comes to mind: Fas­ten your seat­belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

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Published:January 5, 2018


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    Mike Nolan

      A week ago my cardiologist put me on a low salt and restricted liquids diet. Yesterday was my first trip to the grocery store since this life-changing event, and I have to say I'm both depressed and f
      [See the full post at: Beginning the low-salt journey]

      Spread the word

        Mike: Did your doctor say anything about increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods? That might be another way to tackle the issue if it is allowed. That's how I discovered that I really like butternut squash! Roasted butternut squash, combined with homemade chicken/turkey stock and a bit of heavy cream or full-fat yogurt, or whatever dairy or non-dairy you like, makes a tasty soup. I use the Penzey's Now Curry (no salt, but does include garlic), but I noted that their Sweet Curry also has no salt AND no garlic.

        • This reply was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by BakerAunt.
        Mike Nolan

          My potassium has been at the low end of normal, but if I start eating a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, it should be fine. (I've been having a banana as my afternoon snack.)

          I'm not really fond of squash or pumpkin. I did make spaghetti squash with meatballs several times this fall, but I'll have to start making my own low-salt marinara, the canned/jarred stuff is way too high in salt. Even most canned tomatoes have a lot of added salt. I didn't see any no-salt tomatoes at the store, I'm sure I can find them but they'll almost certainly be in small cans at a high price.

          I do have a number of quart containers of frozen tomato sauce I made last summer, no salt in it yet.

          In the summertime I can make ratatouille, which uses eggplant, summer squash and zucchini, but that's not something I usually make in the winter and I'll need to change my recipe, because I usually start by sweating the moisture out of the vegetables by salting them after they've been peeled and sliced.


            I find the drippings from roasting chicken is notably salting even if I use salt-free flavoring, the brine which the store adds to the chicken gives more than enough salt to the drippings,
            I am not surprised at the salt in the prepared food, but is there enough salt in bread to affect your diet?

            Mike Nolan

              One slice of store-bought bread can contain 175-250 mg of sodium in it, depending upon the brand. That means just the bread in a sandwich can make up 1/3 of my daily sodium allowance.

              So far I'm trying to stay well below the daily maximum on sodium, because a primary reason for the sodium and fluid limits is to reduce the amount of water in my body. In a week I've lost about 10 pounds, and I suspect virtually all of that is water weight.


                I totally understand, Mike, at how much sodium is out there. You are lucky not to have to cut out dairy, like I do. I've taken up cooking everything from scratch and even dabbled into vegan cooking. I've also given eating out as there's so much sodium in everyone's cooking.

                One thing I've recently learned is to roasted cauliflower - seasoned with smoked sweet paprika, olive oil and just a 1/4th teaspoon for a whole head of cauliflower. I've actually done the roasted cauliflower with curry powder instead of the paprika. Of the spices, those two are my favorites.

                • This reply was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by luvpyrpom.
                Mike Nolan

                  With my wife's allergies to garlic, red raspberries, curry and saffron (and probably a few I've forgotten to mention), eating out has been a challenge for years. During our Disney family vacation over Christmas whenever we went to eat my wife would have to check with the wait staff and often the chef came out to discuss what there was on the menu she could eat. I have to say that the Disney restaurants did a very good job trying to accommodate her, one of them even made a garlic-free version of their lobster mac and cheese for her.


                    Most beans are a good source of potassium. My husband does not like most beans, but I can get him to eat lentil and split pea soups with me.

                    Walmart does have no-salt added tomatoes. It is the 14 oz. cans, but the price is less than the no-salt versions of other brands.

                    V-8 makes a low sodium version, but my husband pointed out that they use the kind of potassium that is in a lot of salt substitutes, and he read that one should be careful with it.


                      Mike, yes, you should make your own marinara! I make about 40-50 quarts of frozen tomatoes with onion, peppers, and celery every summer, and use them a dozen ways throughout the year. I don't use any salt, just other spices and herbs so we don't miss the salt. I reduce the amount of salt in many baked goods, including breads, and don't find any major change in flavor or rising times. I just started a while back with a cardiologist, and got a pacemaker 4 weeks ago. They found my heart was beating only about 40-45 times per minutes, and sometimes stopped for 10-12 seconds. So far, I've not had to make any changes in my diet, which has been a pretty healthy diet for many years. I do need to find a way to prepare eggplant without the salt prep, however!


                        I always reduce salt in bread recipes by 1/3 to a half. It works. The prepared food industry as well as restaurants are salt crazy, which is why I make most of my meals from scratch. I remember watching some of the food shows, especially Emeril, who would add salt with almost every ingredient he was adding to any dish. BAM, too much salt sucker!

                        Swanson makes an no salt added chicken cooking stock that has only 130mg of sodium per cup, which really isn't bad.

                        Mike Nolan

                          I haven't bought chicken stock in years, I just cut up a chicken, throw it in the pot to simmer, add aromatics and veggies (parsnips are a must!) and in a few hours I've got 5-6 quarts of chicken stock ready to be strained, plus boiled chicken ready for chicken soup or chicken salad. Leaving out the salt is no problem.

                          A new meat market in town can get chicken backs, but I'd have to buy a 40 pound box of them, at around 65 cents/pound. That'd make 4-8 large batches of stock, and I should be able to freeze them in 5 or 10 pound lots, ready to make the next batch. If you roast the chicken bones before simmering them, you get brown chicken stock, not usually used for soup but excellent when cooking and for sauces.


                            I typically keep the salt in my breads at 1% of dough weight. This works out to about 1.85% baker's percent. It's not a lot less but each little bit helps.
                            Mike Rodgers

                            Mike Nolan

                              I know from experience that you can cut salt down to about 1% by baker's weight (eg, relative to the weight of the flour) before you start to notice any significant effects or difference in taste.

                              I've made Tuscan bread a few times, it is salt free. It's pretty bland and tends to be very airy, because there's no salt to inhibit the yeast. I've eaten in a Tuscan restaurant, the bread is meant to be dipped in spicy sauces.


                                It's great to see you posting, pmiker. You have been missed!

                                Joan Simpson

                                  Hey pmiker glad to see you posting!

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