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How to Avoid Sodium When You Eat Out

If you aren't already, you should become more aware of the amount of sodium you are putting into your body. Americans are often ingesting double the amount of sodium necessary daily, even if they never use a salt shaker to add salt to a dish. The average American now consumes 3,300mg of sodium a day, when in the 1970s we were consuming a much more reasonable 2,300mg. This is partly due to the American diet increasingly becoming more processed or packaged instead of being focused on fresh fruits and vegetables. With more technology comes more distractions, and often food preparation suffers because of that. Prepackaged, easy to heat and eat meals are so readily available, you can quickly run through the frozen aisle at any grocery store and find hundreds of options. If frozen food isn't really your thing, many grocery store delis have hot bars you can eat from. Easier still, a fast food place on your way home from work sounds like the quickest thing to grab to eat before you settle in for your nightly Netflix binge. Or maybe you'll order a pizza? This is how you may be inadvertently ingesting way more sodium than you should be! All of these options are made with preservatives and salt to help keep the food fresh for as long as possible. This is especially the case for foods that may be sitting on a shelf for weeks, like a frozen dish. Fast food is loaded with salt because it makes cheap ingredients taste good and makes you want to come back for more. Plus, it's a tricky way for these companies to sell you more to drink. As you eat more sodium, your body needs more liquid, so you shell out a few dollars for a satisfying drink. Finish the drink, take a couple more bites, and repeat.

Why is Sodium Intake Important?

Even though Americans have a lot of sodium in their diets, it isn't as much of a scary monster as you may believe. Though an overabundance of sodium in your diet may lead to some negative health consequences, sodium helps the human body function every day. We need some salt every day for muscle contractions, nerve impulse communication throughout the body, and to help regulate the fluids in our systems so we don't become dehydrated. We mostly get sodium from salt, which is made up of sodium and chloride. Just don't overdo it. By avoiding salt, or consuming less, you will lead a healthier life over all. It's okay to eat a little more than you should once in a while but stick to the daily recommended values as much as possible.

How Much Sodium Do I Need to Be Healthy?

Sodium is a necessary nutrient for a healthy body. There are general guidelines for how much sodium you may need, but everybody is different. Anyone age 14 or older needs only about 2,300 mg of sodium a day. People who have high blood pressure should aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium. For children up to the age of 14, a range of 1,500-2,200 mg of sodium per day is recommended on a scale based on age. The younger they are, the less they need.

How do you Avoid Excess Sodium When Dining Out?

If you only eat out once a month, or even once a year, and you are the kind of person who loves to cook at home and eat fresh ingredients, you probably already have a good relationship with your sodium intake. If you are someone who eats out several times a week, you may find this list useful! Restaurant food is notoriously salty, and thus loaded with sodium.

  1. Glance at menus online before you head out to the restaurant. Some menus have the nutrition facts of the dish available right there online. While others may not have this information readily available, you can check to see what seems to be the choice with the lowest sodium. For example, a piece of baked fish served with a salad will have much less sodium than a dish of fried fish and French fries. This will help you make informed choices and will give you the time you need to fully understand the options available. This will help you decide beforehand which restaurant you want to visit and what foods meet your specific sodium needs.

  2. Order any sauces, gravies, or dressings on the side so you can control the portion you eat. Less sauce means less excess sodium.

  3. Ask how the dish is prepared. See if your vegetables can be steamed without any extra salt. If you are ordering fish or chicken, opt for a broiled or baked version instead of a fried version. Any batter used in the frying process just adds more sodium and calories to the meal.

  4. Be mindful of condiments. Condiments are often laden with excess sodium, even those that taste sweet, like ketchup!

  5. Try to avoid chain restaurants. They tend to have prepackaged meals that don't have a lot of wiggle room in the way of preparation. Instead, opt for more "mom and pop" shops that will be more accommodating and may have an easier time with making sodium cuts to your meal. Farm to table restaurants are becoming more popular across to country and are often more willing to work with you when your order needs to be specially made.

  6. Don't add extra salt from the salt shaker. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can become second nature for some people to salt their dish if it doesn't taste quite as good as they are used to. Reaching for other seasonings is a better solution. If you can replace that shake of salt with a shake of pepper for example, do that instead!

  7. Choose water. Water helps your body balance the amount of sodium it absorbs. Soft drinks often contain sodium too, even if the amount is small. Over time, small amounts add up and contribute to the overall amount of sodium you've consumed, so water should be your drink of choice.

Salt is necessary for our bodies, but too much will do more harm than good. Paying attention to your salt intake is important for your overall health. Don't punish yourself or limit yourself to dinners at home if you have friends who want to go out! You could cook every single meal by yourself for the rest of your life, but that wouldn't be much fun. Enjoy yourself and spend time out but remember to keep an eye on how much sodium you are consuming. If you eat a lot today, eat less tomorrow.

Read More

When and How to Use Salt During Cooking
Top 25 Salt Free Seasonings
The Guide to Seasoning Without Salt
Dining Out on a Low Sodium Diet

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