Healthy eating plays an important role in managing hypertension (high blood pressure). Choose a variety of foods and include more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It is also important to watch the salt in foods which is mainly composed of sodium.

Foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, but most of the sodium in our diet is added during food processing. Canned and packaged foods are high in sodium because it is added to maintain safety and freshness. People with diabetes are recommended to reduce sodium intake towards 2,000 mg per day. One teaspoon of salt is equal to 2,300 mg of sodium.

Reading food labels

Other terms for sodium (or salt) to watch for on a label are:

  • Celery, garlic or onion salt
  • Monosodium glutamate (Accent or MSG)
  • Sodium (Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Nitrate)
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Brine for pickling
  • Soy sauce
  • Na (an abbreviation for sodium)

Ingredients are listed in order from most to least. This means the ingredient used in the greatest amount is listed first. Therefore, if sodium or salt appears near the top of the ingredient list, avoid that product. Also, certain medications or drugs such as laxatives, antacids and effervescent salts may contain sodium. Always consult your physician or pharmacist before using any drugs.

How to cut down salt intake

  • Eliminate high salt foods
  • Stop using salt at the table
  • Limit salt used in cooking

The following table can help you make healthier and lower sodium choices from each food group. Choose foods that are lower in sodium more often.

Food group Lower sodium foods Higher sodium foods
Grains and starches
  • Whole grains and higher fibre foods such as breads, pasta, cereals, bulk hot cereals
  • Grains with no added salt such as unsalted crackers homemade muffins, pancakes, corn breads (made from scratch)
  • Homemade soups (can be frozen for later use), or soups that are low sodium or have no added salt
  • Packaged foods with added salt such as crackers, croutons, seasoned pasta and rice dishes, stuffing, instant hot cereals, instant pancake/waffle mixes
  • Canned products such as corn, soups
  • Prepared convenience foods such as frozen pizzas, frozen dinners
  • Fresh or frozen fruits
  • Fruits with their skin
  • Dried fruits processed with salt
Milk and alternatives
  • Low fat dairy products such as skim or 1% milk and yogurt or soy milk
  • Buttermilk limited to less than 1 cup per week
  • Malted milk, milkshakes
  • Some chocolate-flavoured mixes
  • Canned milk
Other choices (sweet foods and snacks)
  • Unsalted snack foods like popcorn and chips
  • Homemade baked goods (made from scratch)
  • Snack foods like chips and popcorn
  • Packaged pudding, cake, pie mixes
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables with no sauces
  • Low sodium canned vegetables or canned vegetables rinsed with water
  • Canned vegetables
  • Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables
  • Regular vegetable or tomato juices
  • Frozen vegetables with sauces
  • Canned tomatoes
Meat and alternatives
  • Fresh or frozen lean meats and poultry
  • Fresh fish or low sodium canned fish at least once a week. Rinse regular canned fish with water to flush the sodium away.
  • Dried beans, peas and lentils or canned beans rinsed with water
  • Low sodium cheeses such as ricotta, cottage cheese. These are also available as low sodium and low fat.
  • Unsalted nuts. Use herbs/spices to flavour nuts & seeds
  • Smoked, cured, canned, koshered meats
  • Processed meats like hotdogs, cold cuts, ham, sausage
  • Imitation seafood
  • Processed cheeses such as cheese slices, cheese sauces and spreads
  • Salted nuts and seeds
  • Canned beans and lentils
  • Pickled eggs
  • Canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil for cooking
  • Non-hydrogenated margarines without added salt
  • Unsalted salad dressings or homemade dressings with oil, vinegar and herbs
  • Dips made with soup mixes or processed cheese
  • Some salad dressings
  • Salted butter
  • Herbs, spices, lemon and vinegar in cooking to flavour your food
  • Homemade herb shaker or use herb/spice blends available for purchase
  • Low sodium condiments
  • Garlic and onion powder
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, and relish
  • Sauces such as soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and barbecue sauce
  • Pickles and olives
  • Herbs that contain the word salt, such as garlic salt or celery salt
  • Kosher salt and sea salt also contain sodium
  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Softened water
  • Foods described as being smoked, pickled, teriyaki or in broth

Ways to add zip without salt

Any of the spices in your cupboards can add new flavour to your meals. Here are some ideas to get you started:

To add flavour to Try
Meats Beef Bay leaf, chives, parsley, dry mustard powder, marjoram, thyme, oregano, pepper, garlic, onion, fresh mushrooms, sage
Poultry Green pepper, fresh mushrooms, parsley, chives, poultry seasoning, lemon juice, paprika, sage, thyme, pepper
Pork Applesauce, garlic, onion, pepper, cloves, dill, parsley, pepper, sage
Fish Lemon juice, bay leaf, garlic, dill, parsley, pepper, fresh mushrooms, paprika, curry powder
Vegetables Lemon juice, marjoram, dill, parsley, onion, chives, pepper, garlic, vinegar
Salads Dry mustard mixed with vinegar and sugar, lemon juice, chives, parsley, garlic, onion, pepper, oregano
Soups Chives, onion, garlic, chili powder, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, parsley

Try this herb shaker recipe

2 mL (1/4 tsp) basil
3 mL (1/2 tsp) white pepper
15 mL (1 tbsp) onion powder
15 mL (1 tbsp) garlic powder
2 mL (1/4 tsp) paprika
1 mL (1/8 tsp) rosemary
1 mL (1/8 tsp) celery seed
5 mL (1 tsp) thyme
15 mL (1 tbsp) dry mustard

Blend your ingredients and add to an empty shaker with a few pieces of raw rice to allow for easy flow.

What about salt substitutes?

Many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Therefore, always consult your physician before taking any salt substitute.

Adapted from How to Reduce your salt intake and still like your food, Grey Bruce Health Services, January 2008

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