The Low-Sodium Expert: The Basics of Sodium

(Disclaimer: Do not begin a low-sodium diet without consulting a physician. A general minor cutting down in sodium is probably okay, but any serious regimen? Consult a doctor for a level suitable to your needs. Never go on a diet completely lacking in sodium. Sodium is an essential mineral for the body to function. Without it, nerves and muscles would cease to function, the absorption of major nutrients would be impaired, and the body would not be able to maintain adequate water and mineral balance. While information in this article is considered factual and accurate, I accept no responsibility for adopting a low-sodium diet.)


So You're An Expert?

That's right, I'm billing myself as The Low Sodium Expert. What are my qualifications? I am not a doctor, a nurse, a nutritionist, a chef, or a salt hater. I love salt, in fact. Wars have been fought over it, and it's possession was an important tactical part of the American Revolutionary war. Civilizations rose and fell over the possession of “white gold,” as it was called. It was used as currency, giving rise to the phrase, “Are you worth your salt?” It coaxes flavors out of bland foods. Now we have containers of the stuff, in bags, glass jars, and shakers that wait patiently on our tables to sample it's mystical qualities, its reassurance that foods – and life – are good. Heck, put a little iodine in it and say goodbye to those ugly goiters, you know, those giant casabas that used to grow out of your neck.

So my qualifications are simply this: I live on a low-sodium diet BUT...I require not only that food tastes good, but that I get an emotional satisfaction from, a satisfaction that was sorely lacking when I first began my journey on the old, no-salt road. I have eaten the bland food, the tasteless meals, the zero soups and casseroles. Why, I even used to forgo cheese. Cheese, I say! The greatest invention since cows themselves! And I have had many a discussion and conversation with these so called health experts, they of the $250.00 bucks for 10 minutes of their time world that you and I can only dream of, and I know more about sodium, or lack of it, than they do. One of the top physicians who is concerned with low-sodium said to me, “You are simply the best, most knowledgeable low-sodium person I have ever met.” Thanks, Doc. That'll be $250.00 bucks. And those are my qualifications.

And in my two years of exile from the world of salt and sodium, I have learned tricks. Tricks that turn a low-sodium meal into a seemingly salty pleasure, a tasty potpourri of flavors. Many secrets that have never before revealed...until now. In this series, you will learn how to cook with low-sodium ingredients and little or no salt. Recipe's will be shared. Facts given. Data that took me over two years to accumulate will be shared with you in a blink of an eye, or a shake of the imaginary salt. You'll learn how to make your own low-sodium foods and staples, the super secret to salt substitutes and how to make your own. As the series progresses, you'll want to cut and paste the charts, sodium levels, measurements, and other important data and facts into your own document. Then you'll have your own handy guide and you won't have to look up every single thing over and over. When you do look up new data – say how much sodium in a ¼ pound of hamburger (it's 3% to 4%, by the way) – add it to your list.

Low Sodium for Health

So why commit to a Low-sodium diet? For some it's a general health choice, for others a medical requirement. Rutgers University states that, “Current health advice warns against too much sodium. This warning is based on research suggesting that eating high amounts of sodium may contribute to the development of high blood pressure in certain people. High blood pressure may then lead to heart disease, kidney disease or stroke.” They further state that susceptibility to the dangers of high sodium is possibly generic. That is, some people can handle sodium no problem, and others can't. So there may be no reason for you to worry about it. For others, you should worry. The problem is not that we consume sodium itself, but rather such high quantities of it. Cut back a little, you know. The surprising upside is when you cut out sodium, you invariably cut out fat and cholesterol, so you'll lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels. And that just feels good. If you're doing a low-sodium diet just because you want to, 100% is just fine (2300 mg.), or even 3000 mg. is okay. If the purpose is for required health reasons, consult with your physician for the level that's right for you. Personally, I limit my intake to 40% per day, and that, friends, is really low. It's deep down dirty rotten low.

"Lemon Pepper Seasoning." 9% Sodium in just1/4 tsp? Front doesn't say "Seasoned Salt," & I was adding this stuff like crazy!
"Lemon Pepper Seasoning." 9% Sodium in just1/4 tsp? Front doesn't say "Seasoned Salt," & I was adding this stuff like crazy!
Low-Sodium Artisan Bread from my bakery.
Low-Sodium Artisan Bread from my bakery.
Less than 25% DMA each from my Hut.
Less than 25% DMA each from my Hut.

Read the Label

You must always read the label to see how much sodium is in the product, and what amount the figure based on. So check the serving size, then check the sodium level. It's a good idea to have a basic working knowledge of weights, measures, and metric conversions.You'll be amazed at what you discover. Always look for No Salt Added canned vegetables, and read the labels of frozen vegetables. Sodium content can change drastically from brand to brand.

In America, they'll often list the serving size in metrics, knowing we don't use the metric system and therefore will be confused about the true amount of bad stuff in the food. Tricky bastards! Dirty Rotten Scoundrels I'll give you that knowledge in this installment, so get out your scissors and glue stick. Plus, you'll continue learning for a long time. I'm still finding surprises, and some are shocking.

Let's first put sodium into perspective. Say you order a Pizza Hut Pepperoni Lover's Pizza. You eat 3 slices. You've just consumed 2280 mg. of sodium, or nearly 100% of the MDA (maximum daily allowance). 3 large slices of cheese pizza from just about anywhere will be over 100%, so don't think you can just cut out the pepperoni.The cheese, crust, and tomato sauce are all laden with sodium

But don't get your taste buds all in an uproar. In this series, I'll teach you how to make the most delicious pizza you've ever tasted, where the entire pie is less than 25%. A small, 7 oz. bag of barbeque potato chips? 62%. But fear not. I'll teach you how to make sodium-free tortilla chips and welsh potato chips, popular in restaurants in my home town. And delicious low-sodium nachos too. And did you know store-bought breads have 5% sodium per slice? I'll teach you to make delicious, sodium free Artisan and Sour Dough Breads, Flour tortillas, Lavash Crackers, Rissoles, and so much more.

Basic Conversion Charts

The first thing you'll need to know is what are the acceptable sodium levels. These figures are rounded up or down to nearest 1%.

2300 mg. = 100% DMA (Daily Maximum Allowance, called DV on food labels)

1150 mg. = 50%

570 mg. = 25%

200 mg = 8%

100 mg = 4%

24 mg = 1%

Copy that info.

And now what about that miracle table salt? How bad is it really?

1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium = 25% DMV (approx.)

1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium = 50%

3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium = 75%

1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium = 100%

Remember too that teaspoons are tiny, miniscule things. An insult to man, really. It takes 3 of them to equal 1 tablespoon.

Basic info about converting cups to grams.

1 cup = 30 grams (Depends on what is in the cup. Here are some other examples.)

Granulated sugar: 1 cup = 200 grams
Brown sugar: 1 cup, packed = 220 grams
Sifted white flour: 1 cup = 125 grams
White rice, uncooked: 1 cup = 185 grams
White rice, cooked: 1 cup = 175 grams
Butter: 1 cup = 227 grams
Almonds, slivered: 1 cup = 108 grams
Oil: 1 cup = 224 grams
Maple syrup: 1 cup = 322 grams
Milk, non-fat: 1 cup = 245 grams
Milk, sweetened condensed: 306 grams
Broccoli, flowerets: 1 cup = 71 grams
Raisins: 1 cup, packed = 165 grams
Milk, dry: 1 cup = 68 grams
Yogurt: 1 cup = 245 grams
Confectioners sugar: 1 C = 110 g
Cocoa: 1 C = 125 g


Look Up Nutrition Data

Look Up Nutrition Data

For checking general nutrition data for a particular food, Google “Nutritional data tomatoes,” for example. I prefer the site nutritiondata.com, but they don't have everything listed so use another. There are many online metric conversion sites on the Internet. Pick one and check your conversion, then copy it to your list. And this is just a start. It will grow. In the beginning, take the list with you when you go grocery shopping. Then you'll know what you're looking at, until eventually it becomes second nature. Count the sodium you consume in every single meal or snack, and compare it to your desired level. Don't know how much sodium is in a sirloin steak? Look it up. A 6 oz. Sirloin is about 112 mg sodium, or about 4% or 5 % of DV (daily value), or as I call it, the DMA (daily maximum allowance).


Further Sodium Education

That doesn't quite wrap up your introduction to sodium. You serious low- sodium students have homework. First, copy the above charts to your master sheet, and then practice counting your sodium intake. Look up what you need to. This will give you an idea of how much sodium you are consuming now. Read every label and count everything. Write it down. And secondly, read this basic primer to low-sodium basics, written by me. It's short, but full of information not included here, and it includes a recipe for a salt substitute you can make yourself. The article is “Maintaining a Low-Sodium Diet For Healthy Living.” 


I apologize for the length of this intro. In the future, chapters will be much shorter but this info was necessary. If you'd like to read the entire series from The Low-Sodium Expert as it becomes available, simply subscribe to my RSS feed above, and watch for entries in this series. You'll be notified as they are posted. And remember, you can read these articles just for some tips, some little things that you might do just to cut down on sodium for general health, or to live a low-sodium lifestyle as I have done. You'll too become a Master.


Don't reach for the salt, and if you do, count it!


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Comments 32 comments

izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

Great hub! I found cutting out all fast food reduces sodium without even trying. I always look for salt and sugar content- those are obesity culprits. It is hard to avoid it that's why this is a useful hub. I can't believe how much sodium is in cottage cheese- whoa!


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

I am strangely impressed. So much so that I have actually written the check and it's ready for mailing. $250 wasn’t it? Right. And the address?

Really good stuff this :-)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks, Izetti. Nice to see you, as always! Oh, and I love Cottage Cheese too. Haven't had it for so long. For some things, I'm just not that willing to give up that much ground in my personal sodium limit. Threre are other things to make allowances for. And yes, fast food is a terrible culprit. Thanks for reading, and the comment!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

DeGreek: I always knew you were a man of great intelligence and class, no matter what the others say. That address would be:

The Sodium Expert

5 Potato Chip Lane

The Great Salt Flats, Watertown, PI

10000

Thanks for your support! (financial and otherwise!)


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Chris - sodium is everywhere! Processed and fast foods are loaded with sodium. I love salt just like a lot of people, but if I eat, say, potato chips, I am gagging with the salt. I think that Americans are ruining their taste buds with it!


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

WOW, who would have thought that a fun guy like you reads lables and counts gr. of salt converting them into %? I am so impressed I might send the check to 5 Patato Chip Lane. Do they still call intelligence "the salt of the earth"? Should we take the saying with a "grain of salt", or maybe a full box would be better?

Thank you for the informative hub, I will be reading the entire series and maybe even make dietary changes


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Christoph,

This is really a useful hub! The intro is also quite humorous. I don't think you can write without being at least a little bit funny, even if you write about sodium! And that food looks sooooo goood!

I'm a skinny minny, but that's no excuse to ignore my salt intake! I will pay more attention now. Thanks for helping me stay healthy! I also suck as cooking.... I know it's a crime. So you will have to be very specific with your recipes for me. Maybe just come over and make them for me? Save us all a lot of trouble. I mean, I don't want my house to burn down! ;-)

Oh, and Christoph? I love that picture of you with the chef hat. LOVE IT!

~AC


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Delores: Yes, sodium amounts in processed foods are criminal, and fast foods, and even restaurants where the chef's are quite liberal with the white stuff. Is it a wonder everyone is so fat, or that there is an obesity epidemic in kids. It's shameful. We ARE ruining our taste buds, no longer tasting the food but just the salt. Thank you for your input.


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Christoph,

I just had to come back and give you some information! I was browsing my kitchen for a lunch and I'm so disgusted! One package of ramen (which I don't eat often, but will never eat again!) is labeled as 35% sodium! 35%!!! And the worst part is, that's for one serving, and you have to search the package to find out that one serving is half of the package! So if you eat the whole thing.... that's 70%!!! Holy Na!

And a hotpocket is almost as bad... that's 31% for one, and you know that if you eat hotpockets you eat both of them, not just one. If I ate a box of hot pockets and a package of ramen for lunch, I'd have 140% of my sodium for the day.... And that's if I'm normal and I can handle 100%.

I'm concerned to say the least.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Petra: Thanks for the kind and generous words. Yea, I am sometimes a boring guy, but I still enjoy dining out on occasions and will even allow myself the foods which I speak against. Sometimes, the soul must be fed, you know. We still have all those "salt" sayings, though "salt of the earth" refers to "A decent, dependable, unpretentious person."

Thanks to for your promise of a donation. I accept Romanian Leu's, you know, in case you have some stashed in a wooden box under your bed.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

AC: Awwww, shucks, Ma'am. You know if I think of something stupid while I'm writing in it goes! Of course I would be thrilled to come over and cook for you. That's how I got started cooking in the first place: Everyone knows that women love a man who can cook! I'll be the teacher for a change.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

AC: Ha, ha! You couldn't have picked two worse foods to look at for sodium content. Ramen noodles are known for it, and all processed foods like hot pockets will be, unless marked otherwise. Microwave dinners, veggies with sauces, canned goods, you name it.

Look, you don't have to worry. You don't have to do without those things, just enjoy them a little less often, and instead choose something healthier. For example, instead of those hot pockets, how about two or three slices of my homemade pizza. All you'll have to do is pop the slices from your freezer in the oven for 15 minutes or so, and wahlah, you'll have a delicious lunch, healthy and nutritious with only 8% (2 slices) or 12% (3 slices) sodium. That's a heck of a lot better than your 140%. I'll do my best to teach you how to do these things, and lot's more, even easier stuff. Stay tuned! Or how about a couple of rissoles from the freezer and popped in the oven - pastry filled with your choice of meat, cheese and vegetables, just like hot pockets but only 10% sodium or so for both. It's all so easy, it just takes a little time to cook them.


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Christoph,

My mouth is gushing. Should I say that? Oh well, I don't go back on my words. That sounds delicious, and I can't wait to learn! I am so excited to finally have a day job, so I can have nights free to burn down the house--er cook up some healthy grub.

And I will make an effort to never eat ramen ever again. :) Unless you have an alternative to the seasoning packet that has low sodium? Because that sounds tasty!

~AC


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

So Romanian Lei it is, Christoph, and thank you for the "salt of the earth" explaniation; I like it better than what I thought I knew; we "damn foreiners" make things up at times. And just to make sure you understood, let me clarify one thing; you can't be boring even if you try to, so please give us the fun recipes so we can all be helthier and live long and boring lives:-)))


Michael E. Horton 6 years ago

Great hub.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

AC: You might want to see a doctor about your gushing mouth. Depends though, I guess. Burn down the house? Are you making fun of me? I have a history of fire, you know.

Ramen noodles, eh? Oddly enough I have never before enjoyed the salty goodness and MSG high sugar infusion of Ramen Noodles, doubly surprising when you consider it is a staple of college students and starving actors everywhere. But I have done a little looking into the matter and have a solution...maybe. Try this. Cook the noodles and throw away the seasoning packet. It may require a little experimentation on your part. Mix together the following:

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons ground white pepper (or black)

2 tablespoons chives

Cayenne or Red ground pepper to taste (if you like spicy)

Ramen is full of sugar so try adding a little stevia, splenda, sweet n' low, or sugar to taste (I have no idea how much. start with a little and see if it needs more.)

Salt to taste (if you must but take it easy.)

Mix all of these together, store in an airtight container.

Now, lets say you like their chicken flavored Ramen. Try cooking the pasta in some low-sodium chicken stock. Researve a little of the stock as you may want to add a tablespoon to the noodles at serving time.

Or forget all this and just season with some Old Bay Seasoning. It has sodium in it, so keep it at 1/2 tablespoon for 240 mg. sodium, or 10% DMA (acceptable for lunch. Heck, 20% in your case would be just fine, so go for a Tablespoon if you like. There will be a little sodium absorbed into the noodles from the stock too, so call it 25%. Perfectly fine for you. Even I could do that.

Does that work? Then how about junking the Ramen noodles totally and instead buying from the International or Oriental isle of your supermarket some shirataki noodles. Or get them at an Oriental market if you have one. Not having ever tried Ramen before, I don't know, but regular spaghetti might be okay, or some rice noodles, which are easier to find. Hope it helps (and that it tastes good.)

Now, about that gushing mouth...


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Petra, my dear, you are too kind. I know you didn't call me boring, rather I did. And I'm exciting too (I hope.)Not as exciting as you though. Escaper of suppression, world traveler, etc.!

Looking forward to my Lei! (I'm just sayin'.)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks, Michael, and thanks for the visit!


Candie V profile image

Candie V 6 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

You had me at 'cheese'!! I've cut way down on salt.. but I admit it.. I enjoy it over 'bland'! This is a great article Christoph and apologize not for its length.. all useful/necessary info.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Candy, I appreciate that, and your visit too. Is that Little Red Riding Hood! I'm the big bad wolf! Thanks!


izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

Cool ramen substitute recipe- will try!! I am hooked on noodles, olive oil, garlic and onion powder, and oregeno and basil- YUM!!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Your's is not unlike what I often eat with spaghetti. And maybe a splash of rice vinegar or balsamic for some zip!


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

The cry of give me salt or give me death rings in my ears. I have cut back a lot on salt. I check all the labels, use only organic sea salt, but now that's even a worry with all the oil pollutants in our oceans. Himalayan salt is good to. I eat unsalted everything I can find. Table salt is a no no...great hub loved it all, left me with a salty taste in my mouth though, it must be those Nachos.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Saddlerider: Thanks for the comment. Hate to burst your bubble though. Sea salt is no healthier than table salt, even though it is marketed as healthier. Table salt is processed to remove some insignificant trace minerals which can lend a different flavor and color to sea salt, and table salt has an additive to prevent clumping, plus the iodine, but the sodium levels are the same, with the same effects on the body and recommended daily maximum intake is the same. I used it too, once upon a time. It was oh so chic! See this from the Mayo clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sea-salt/AN01142

That being said, you probably don't have a medical reason to be concerned about it, and you seem to be careful about sodium, so by all means, please continue with what appears to be a perfectly healthy lifestyle. In other words, You looking' Good!


rmr profile image

rmr 6 years ago from Livonia, MI

So you're saying I should probably stop salting my bacon?

This is great info, Chris, and lots of it! Fortunately for me, I'm one of the lucky ones that doesn't have a problem with salt. I sure wish I could say the same for sugar!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Rob: Ahhh-hhh-hhhh...salted bacon. Ha! Bacon is great. Everything is better with it. At 8% per slice, I can allow a slice or two on occasion. Of course, I don't put additional salt on it. Ummm...are you sure you don't have a problem with salt?

As for sugar, I'm not real knowlegeable about it. I use some for real, and some sweet n' low or Splenda, but that's probably as bad for you as they say sugar is. Still, I don't want to get fat. I'll switch to Stevia when the price comes down. It's great, totally natural, no calories, and has been used by people elsewhere for probably thousands of years, but just recently approved for the U.S. Tastes just like sugar I think. Now, when is the FDA going to approve chewing on coca leaves?


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

Christoph - what an amazingly informative hub. OK - my BP has always been low so I need to carry around a little bit of salt - just in case - but most people in my age group suffer from high BP and they don't even try to think of alternatives - they would rather pop medication. I love that alternative spice mix in your comments - sounds great - I'm going to add some salt to it and use it :)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Shalini: Glad you read it. I know what you're saying as I have low BP too. As for the alternative spice mix, I tried it myself. Not too bad. I put in some ground red pepper for spiciness. Think it needs just a little Mayo or Miracle Whip (a low-fat alternative to Mayo available here) but just a little, or a little sour cream - both low in sodium. Yummmm.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

My mother started cooking without salt several years ago, and I quickly got on her creative salt-free bandwagon. Once you get the hang of combinging foods, herbs, and spices for flavor, you'll never miss the salt.

Your intro is probably a bit of a shocker for folks who haven't taken a long hard look at salt levels in commercially prepared foods. Looking forward to the series!


girly_girl09 profile image

girly_girl09 6 years ago from United States

great hub! I started eating all organic a few months ago and as such, my sodium intake has dramatically decreased. Unfortunately, I still have to consciously add it to my food at the behest of my doctor; I use sea salt with added iodine which is supposed to be helpful for anemia. But, I definitely don't eat as much as I used to. The average diet has so much sodium intake that it would make your head spin.

Also, I used to notice bloating after a really salty meal when I ate processed(like pizza or fast food). Yes, ladies - sodium can make you appear fatter! :p


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

girly girl: In addition to water retention, by avoiding the processed and fast foods that are so laden with it, you also cut out a great deal of fat and calories from your diet, so you lose weight because of that as well. Thank you for the comment, girly girl, & good luck with your organic diet!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis Author

Sally: Not sure how I managed not to respond to your comment before, but.... Yes, I found it rough going at first until I figured out how to compensate for the lack of salt with combinations of spices and herbs and other little tricks. Now, I rarely miss it. Thanks for the visit!

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