Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out

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Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out

Introduction

For many people, eating out is something they do to relax and socialize. You don't have to give this up when you are on a low-sodium diet, but it is important to be more careful about what you order in a restaurant. Sodium is not just in table salt. You can also find it in sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Asian foods often have MSG as well as soy sauce, which is also very salty. But with some planning and helpful tips, you can still enjoy eating out while limiting the sodium in your diet.

Key points

  • Restaurant foods are usually high in sodium.
  • Most restaurants are willing to prepare your food with less or no sodium, if you ask.
  • Food can still taste good and be low in sodium.
 

If you are on a low-sodium diet, you need to limit your intake of salt and other forms of sodium in the food you eat. Depending on your condition, your doctor will probably limit your sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day. This can be challenging for people who like to eat out, because processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

Test Your Knowledge

The biggest source of sodium in most people's diets is from adding salt to the food.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Sodium causes your body to hold extra water. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse. For example, if you have heart failure, too much sodium makes it harder for your already weakened heart to pump and can lead to sudden heart failure. Fluid may build up in your lungs—making it harder for you to breathe—and in your feet, ankles, legs, and belly. Limiting sodium in your diet will make you feel better.

Test Your Knowledge

Too much sodium may cause your body to hold extra water.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Too much sodium can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Too much sodium can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

It requires extra effort to avoid sodium when you eat out, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add. Here are some ways to avoid sodium when you dine out.

  • Try to choose restaurants where the food is made to order, instead of choosing fast-food or buffet-style restaurants. Before you order, ask how the food is prepared and if the restaurant offers low-sodium menu items. Often you can ask that your meal be prepared with no added sodium.
  • Most fast-food restaurants have nutrition information available, including sodium content. If you do eat at a fast-food restaurant, ask for the nutrition information and choose lower-sodium items.
  • Ethnic foods, such as Asian or Mexican, often have lots of sodium. You don't always have to give up these foods, but ask the server to help you make lower-sodium choices.
  • When you eat out, try to eat very low-sodium items the rest of the day. This will help you stay within your sodium limit for the day.

Learn what food items are okay and which ones to avoid. For example, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has more than 1,000 mg of sodium, and 1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,000 mg of sodium. You can use the following list and bring it with you to the restaurant. You may be able to substitute low-salt or fresh menu items for those with higher sodium content.

Tips for eating out
Foods to avoid Instead, choose or ask for...

Smoked, cured, and salted meat, fish, and poultry

Fresh, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled meat, fish, or poultry

Ham, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cheese

Fresh roasted pork, turkey, or chicken

Canned vegetables

Fresh steamed vegetables with no added salt. (Assume that cooked vegetables have added salt unless you ask for them to be prepared without it.)

Condiments, such as pickles, olives, tartar sauce, and ketchup

Sliced cucumbers, malt vinegar, or low-sodium ketchup and mustard

Sauces, including soy sauce, tomato sauce, au jus, and gravy

Low-sodium soy sauce, olive oil

Salad dressings

Oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or low-sodium dressing

Fast foods, including french fries, pizza, and tacos

Plain baked potato, grilled chicken sandwich

Soups and broths

Salads without croutons, bacon, cheese, or olives

Tomato juice or any drink that contains tomato juice, such as V-8 or Clamato. This includes alcoholic drinks like Bloody Marys.

Orange juice, other citrus juices, or soft drinks

Fried or seasoned rice

Steamed plain rice. (Asian restaurants often add salt to steamed rice. Be sure to ask for steamed rice without added salt.)

Pasta with tomato sauce

Pasta tossed in olive oil or with fresh tomatoes

Ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogourt, and angel food cake are all lower-sodium dessert choices.

Test Your Knowledge

When you are on a low-sodium diet, you can't eat out, because restaurant food has too much sodium.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You can eat out when you are on a low-sodium diet. But it does require extra effort, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You can eat out when you are on a low-sodium diet. But it does require extra effort, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add.

  •  

Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you can make low-sodium food choices when you eat out. Talk with your doctor about the changes to your diet. He or she may have more suggestions and tips on how to avoid sodium when you eat out. You may also want to meet with a registered dietitian for more ideas about a healthful diet for you.

If you would like more information on eating out when you are on a low-sodium diet, the following resources are available:

Organizations

Canada's Food Guide
Health Canada, Health Products and Food Branch, Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Web Address: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index_e.html
 

Canada's Food Guide provides resources to help guide food selection and promote the nutritional health of Canadians. Resources include outlines of the food groups, the recommended range of daily servings, background information about the food guide, and other information about healthy eating.


Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation
1390 Taylor Avenue
Winnipeg, MB  R3M 3V8
Phone: (204) 488-5854
Fax: (204) 928-7873
Web Address: www.cacr.ca
 

The Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation (CACR) is a professional organization that promotes research in cardiac disease prevention and rehabilitation. The CACR website includes articles on topics related to cardiac disease.


Dietitians of Canada
480 University Avenue
Suite 604
Toronto, ON  M5G 1V2
Phone: (416) 596-0857
Fax: (416) 596-0603
Email: centralinfo@dietitians.ca
Web Address: www.dietitians.ca
 

The Dietitians of Canada website provides a wide range of food and nutrition information, including fact sheets on frequently asked food and diet questions, quizzes and other tools to assess your diet habits, and meal planning guides.


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
222 Queen Street
Suite 1402
Ottawa, ON  K1P 5V9
Phone: (613) 569-4361
Fax: (613) 569-3278
Web Address: www.heartandstroke.ca
 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada works to improve the health of Canadians by preventing and reducing disability and death from heart disease and stroke through research, health promotion, and advocacy.


U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD  20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov
 

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

  • Diseases affecting the heart and circulation, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and heart problems present at birth (congenital heart diseases).
  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, sleep apnea, and pneumonia.
  • Diseases that affect the blood, such as anemia, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, thalassemia, and von Willebrand disease.

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Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised October 14, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.