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Stay low-sodium and high-flavor with these simple, expert-approved tips.

Jenny McCoy
February 07, 2018

In a world of controversial diets and hotly contested nutrition advice, this one is crystal clear: a high salt diet is an unhealthy diet.

Mounting research confirms that excessive sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Yet despite this evidence, over 90 percent of Americans eat more than daily recommended amount of 2,300 mg, thanks in large part to our increasing consumption of restaurant meals, which tend to be heavily salted.

Before you promise yourself you’ll homecook every single meal from now on, know this: it IS possible to have a low-sodium meal when dining out.

Three registered dietitians share their top tips for how to make that happen.

RELATED: What to Do After Eating Too Much Salt

Just ask.

The  easiest (and most obvious) thing you can do is simply ask your server to hold the salt.

“Most chefs will easily comply with skipping that step of salting food before it is served,” says Stephanie Ferrari, a Massachusetts-based registered dietitian. “Also, don’t be shy about asking your server which menu items have no added salt. If they don’t know the answer, it’s a simple question for the chef!”

Plan ahead.

Before going to a restaurant, scope the menu online and take note of dishes listed as “low-sodium.” If there isn’t a dedicated low-salt section, keep an eye out for the opposite: keywords that may hint of extra salt, like barbecued, charcuterie, cured, pickled, smoked, soy, and teriyaki, explains Tanya Zuckerbrot, NYC-based registered dietitian, author of The F-Factor Diet and creator of F-Factor.

Avoid dishes described with these terms and instead consider options that are steamed or roasted, says  Orlando-based registered dietitian Jessica Levings, as those cooking methods typically involve less salt.

Taste before you shake.

Take a bite of your meal before automatically reaching for the salt shaker.

If your food needs more flavor, ask for low-sodium seasonings like lemon wedges, herbs or vinegar, suggests Zuckerbrot.

Sauce lightly.

Sauces and condiments in general tend to be loaded with sodium, but particularly salty offenders include ketchup, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, relish, MSG, oyster sauce, tartar sauce, and salad dressings. Even hot sauce can tip your sodium scale, warns Zuckerbrot.

Better bets: mustard, flavored oils, vinegars, and a squeeze of lime or lemon, recommends Ferrari.

If you do decide to go with a saltier sauce, dressing or condiment, ask if it can be served on the side. Control the amount you consume by dipping your fork into the liquid and then using it to pick up your food, rather than dunking your food directly into the sauce.

“You’ll eat less sauce that way but will still get the flavor you’re looking for,” says Ferrari.

RELATED: Low-Sodium Choices

Ditch the pickles.

Pickles may seem like an innocent side snack to your sandwich or burger, but with upwards of 800mg of sodium in just one medium brined cuke, they spell salty with a capital S.

As a lower sodium alternative, turn to fresh veggies like cucumbers or bell peppers, says Ferrari.

Curb your bread intake.

Sad, but true: a 2012 report by the CDC found that breads and rolls are the number one source of sodium in the American diet.

“Limiting yourself to one slice from the bread basket, or slicing your burger bun in half so it’s thinner can help reduce sodium,” explains Levings.

Specialize salads.

If you’re ordering a bed of greens, ask for raw veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and red onion in lieu of olives, fried items, and heavy-handed dressings, all of which can saturate your otherwise healthy salad in sodium, says Levings.

Know your cheeses.

Not all cheeses are created equal. Feta, blue cheese and part-skim mozzarella, for example, tend to be higher in salt than whole-milk mozzarella, swiss and goat, so keep that in mind when ordering and ask for modifications or substitutions where possible, says Levings.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Keep Food Tasty While Decreasing Your Sodium

Strategize with sides.

Pay attention to your side dishes. Common accompaniments like french fries and loaded baked potatoes can contain mega doses of salt, warns Levings. Ask your server if you can swap in unsalted steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grain rice, whole grain pasta, or a plain baked potato instead.

Go easy on the chips.

If you’re eating Mexican food, decline the basket of tortilla chips that will likely arrive at your table—they’re heavily salted and easy to overeat, says Zuckerbrot.

And if you’re sipping a marg while you’re there? Simple tip: skip the salt around the rim.