Trying to cut back on salt but fond of convenience foods? These delicious packaged items manage to dramatically slash sodium without sacrificing flavor. By Maureen Callahan, MS, RD
Experts encourage moderation when it comes to salt (sodium chloride) since excessive amounts of sodium not only raise blood pressure but can damage artery linings. Since the lion’s share of sodium comes from processed foods, we sampled our way through the supermarket to find the best-tasting lower sodium products. Government standards define low sodium as 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving, but we’ve included a few noteworthy products that cut sodium levels by 50 percent or more. Not seeing your favorite convenience food on this list? A smart shopping strategy courtesy of the newest Dietary Guidelines: Compare soups, breads, and similar foods and buy the brand with the lowest sodium numbers.
Deli meats have a notoriously salty reputation, but Boar’s Head proves the rare exception. The roast beef from their all-natural line (which is hormone-, nitrate-, and preservative-free), manages to deliver a skimpy 140 milligrams of sodium per two-ounce serving. Better yet, it tastes like a Sunday supper roast that grandma baked from scratch. At a skinny 80 calories and two grams of fat per two ounces, it’s also a pretty lean-mean sandwich filling. The competition? Familiar deli beef packs 500 milligrams of sodium or more.
Made with roasted red bell peppers, roasted garlic, and tomatoes, this creamy milk-based soup from Pacific Foods tastes like it’s been simmering on Julia’s stovetop, but a light hand with the salt cuts sodium in half (down to 360 mg per cup) from an original version. Ditch the box and guests will be raving about your culinary skills. Try heating soup on the stovetop and stirring in different ingredients based on what sounds good at the moment. Our favorite twist: a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper, baby spinach leaves, and chickpeas.
A mixture of sprouted wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt in Ezekiel Low Sodium Sprouted Wheat Bread, gives this tasty 80-calorie sandwich bread a wonderfully nutty flavor and a healthy three grams of fiber. Sodium? Zero, nada, zip. That’s because the bread is baked without salt. Sound odd? In Italy’s Umbrian region they’ve been baking bread sans salt, and loving it, since the 1500s. It makes a lot of sense when you consider bread is basically a vehicle for fillings or toppings like butter and jam.
It’s no secret that spices help build flavor into foods and allow you to use less salt. But figuring out which spices go together, and how much to use, can be intimidating. So we think The Spice Hunter’s thirty-five salt-free seasoning blends are a godsend in the kitchen. Craving Mexican? There’s a fajita blend. Feel like Jamaican? Try the jerk blend. But our hands-down favorite is a curry seasoning that combines sweet and savory spices to bring all the flavors and aromas of India to the table.
Chips and pretzels that have zero salt can be a hard snack to swallow. But when salt, or in this case sea salt, is used sparingly the end result can be tasty with just a less pronounced salt hit. So it is with these thin crisps. At first bite you may notice they’re not quite as salty, but as you keep munching the same nutty wheat flavor and subtle hint of sweetness that are hallmark of Wheat Thins comes through. However, instead of 230 milligrams of sodium per serving (16 crackers), the new thins add up to just 60.
Roasted, salted nuts are one of those all American snacks. So it seems crazy to fool with a winning snack. Yet Planters new line of 50 percent less sodium nuts boldly takes on the task and delivers a strong contender with just 50 milligrams per serving. The salt is visible and the nuts are perfectly roasted, but the salty flavor is mild. For some, it will be an easy switch. Salt hounds may want to mix lightly salted nuts and regular nuts to gradually wean themselves away from saltier versions. Look for more low-sodium options from Planters soon. They recently announced a reduction of sodium by an average of ten percent across its entire plant-based product portfolio by 2012.
Most parents focus on the sugar content of cereals, but sodium can be a pretty big issue too, particularly since what the box calls a serving is far less than what most people pour into the bowl. One popular wheat cereal racks up 210 milligrams of sodium in each one-ounce (one-cup) portion. By comparison, an ounce of Quaker rolled oats is sodium-free. It also nets you three grams of filling, cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Make it in the microwave and flavor with fresh or dried fruit and nuts.
A good rule of thumb when shopping for canned beans is to opt for organic varieties since they typically carry far less salt. That way you can season to taste rather than start with an overwhelming salt flavor. Here’s the deal: adding a can of black beans to a pot of chili is like adding half a teaspoon of salt (400 mg sodium per half cup of beans). Eden beans sport just 15 milligrams of sodium per half cup, come in BPA-free cans, are non-GMO (genetically modified), and have a pleasantly firm texture.
It seems like a no-brainer to use salt-free items (tomatoes, butter, vegetables) in recipes and then add salt to taste. We’re particularly fond of these petite diced tomatoes from Del Monte which taste remarkably fresh for a canned product. The small size makes them perfect for bruschetta and salsa, but they’re also a good addition to soups, casseroles, and chilies. Sodium adds up to 50 milligrams of per half cup instead of the usual 280 mg found in regular varieties.