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How to calculate sodium content and stay within sodium limits

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Sodium content will vary significantly depending on the ingredients you use. There is no salt in any of these recipes. But this doesn't mean there is no sodium because sodium occurs naturally in most of the foods we eat whether we add salt or not. Did you know a stalk of celery has 51 mg of sodium? And a cup of whole milk has over 100 mg of sodium? Many people on a low sodium diet aim to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. My husband tries to keep his sodium intake even lower so we cut salt out altogether and generally rely only on the sodium that occurs naturally in foods. This means we don't eat many packaged foods so calculating sodium content can be hard.

When I calculate sodium, I start by looking at the nutrition label. However, most of our ingredients don't have nutrition labels, so I often use My Food Data. I like this site because it's easy to use and the information is sourced from the USDA's Food Data Central. This is especially helpful for fruits and vegetables but it's not perfect because the particular product you are using might not be available in this database. The sodium calculations provided in the recipes, therefore, are always an estimate and will depend on the specific ingredients you use.

It's awful and exhausting to always think so hard about what you're eating for fear of triggering a Meniere's attack. Following a few general guidelines can make things easier so you're not constantly crunching numbers to ensure you stay within a certain sodium limit.

First, certain foods are simply off limits now. That includes fast food, most restaurant food, and most of our favorite packaged snacks (i.e. chips, cookies, and ice cream). A lot of seafood is also off limits for us now because it's often packed in some sort of salt solution. But there are exceptions! Whenever I find a no-salt or very low sodium packaged snack or food item, I'll share it on my Pantry Favorites page.

Second, know and control your portion sizes. If you don't eat foods with added salt and also maintain reasonable portion sizes, it's not too hard to stay under 1,500 mg of sodium per day. All of the recipes here will help you do this, and you can still enjoy foods that are usually too salty to eat on a low sodium diet like pizza, hamburgers, and tacos.

Third, always have some very low sodium food available, something that can be a meal in itself and not just a snack. We call these "free foods." Foods that are so low in sodium, we can eat them without really thinking too much about our sodium intake. For us, this is usually a ratatouille or other type of vegetable stew with pasta or rice. Even a simple vegetarian pizza can be a "free food!" These "free foods" fill you up without adding much sodium to your daily limit.

It's hard adjusting to a low sodium diet and it will take some time. Food without salt simply doesn't taste the same as food with added salt. There's no magic salt substitute or low sodium ingredient that will replace the flavor of salt. But your taste buds will adjust, I promise, and you'll start to find that food can be delicious and satisfying even without salt. You can do this!

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