What Is Sodium?

Sodium (salt) is a mineral found in many foods. We need sodium for important bodily functions such as muscle contraction and water balance. On a two gram (2,000 milligrams [mg]) sodium diet you will be limiting the amount of high-sodium foods that you eat.

Why Limit Sodium Intake?

A low-sodium diet can prevent or lower ]]>high blood pressure]]> and prevent and improve edema (water retention), which can occur with conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease. The foods highest in sodium include table salt (about 50% sodium), processed foods, condiments, seasonings, convenience foods, and preserved foods. Just one teaspoon of salt has 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Examples of processed foods include canned foods, frozen dinners, snack foods, packaged starchy foods (eg, seasoned rice, instant mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese), baking mixes, deli meats and cheeses, sausages, and cured or smoked meats.

Food Choices on a Two Gram Sodium Diet

Food CategoryFoods RecommendedFoods to Avoid
  • Breads and rolls without salted tops, muffins
  • Ready-to-eat and cooked cereals
  • Unsalted crackers and breadsticks
  • Low-sodium or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffing
  • All rice and pastas
  • Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted tops
  • Quick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixes
  • Regular bread crumbs
  • Instant hot cereals
  • Commercially prepared rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes
  • Most fresh, frozen, and low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Low-sodium and salt-free vegetable juices
  • Regular canned vegetables and juices, including sauerkraut and pickled vegetables
  • Frozen vegetables with sauces
  • Commercially prepared potato and vegetable mixes
  • Most fresh, frozen, and canned fruits
  • All fruit juices
  • Fruits processed with salt or sodium
  • All milk, but limit to a total of 2 cups daily
  • All yogurt
  • Most low-sodium cheeses (including ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese)
  • Malted and chocolate milk
  • Regular and processed cheese, cheese spreads, and sauces
  • Buttermilk (no more than 1 cup per week)
Meats and Beans
  • Any fresh or frozen beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and some shellfish
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Low-sodium peanut butter
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Any smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry (including bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, frankfurters, sausages, sardines, and anchovies)
  • Frozen breaded meats
  • Salted nuts
Fats and Oils
  • Low-sodium or unsalted butter and margarine
  • All plain oils, low-sodium salad dressings
  • Oils mixed with other, high-sodium ingredients (eg, salad dressing)
Snacks and Condiments
  • Low-sodium or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, condiments, and snack foods
  • Pepper, herbs, and spices; vinegar, lemon, or lime juice
  • Broth, soups, gravies, and sauces made from instant mixes or other high-sodium ingredients
  • Salted snack foods, olives
  • Meat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars
  • Low-sodium carbonated beverages
  • Commercially softened water


  • Make fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed whole grains (such as old-fashioned oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, barley, bulgur, and whole-wheat couscous) the base of your diet.
  • Do not add salt to food when cooking or at the table. If food needs more flavor, get creative and try different herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, lemon, lime, and vinegar also add flavor to foods.
  • Avoid fast food and convenience food—they tend to have a lot of added salt.
  • Salt is often used as a preservative. Fresh foods are lowest in salt. Purchase fresh poultry, fish, meat, and vegetables whenever possible.
  • A good rule of thumb, when in the grocery store, all the aisles in the middle of the store contain products with high sodium. And usually all foods on the outside aisles (produce, meats, etc.) are lower in sodium.
  • Certain medications may contain sodium, for example antacids and laxatives. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about any medications before you take them.
  • When eating out, choose meals that are lower in salt and ask that your food be prepared without any added salt.

Reading Food Labels

  • Avoid foods that contain more than 500 mg salt per serving, this includes soups and frozen dinners.
  • Don’t just check the list of ingredients for the words sodium and salt—sodium may be disguised under other names. Here are some common high-sodium ingredients: monosodium glutamate, brine, and broth.
  • Here are the definitions of some commonly used terms that you may see on foods:
    Term Meaning
    Sodium-freeLess than 5 mg of sodium per serving
    Very low sodium35 mg of sodium or less in each serving
    Low sodium140 mg or less in each serving
    Reduced sodiumAt least 25% less sodium in each serving than the reference food. For example, if the food usually has 1,000 mg of sodium, the same food made with reduced sodium would contain 750 mg of sodium. Food not necessarily “low sodium.”
    Light in sodium50% less salt than in original product
    “No Salt Added” and “Unsalted”No salt was added to the product. However, the food may still contain sodium.