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An easy rule of thumb when it comes to choosing foods that have minimal amounts of salt is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where you’ll find fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Use caution when shopping the interior aisles where processed, packaged foods tempt you with high sodium content, not to mention fats and sugar. Many foods have very little or no salt, including whole foods and minimally-processed options.
Fruits and Vegetables
With few exceptions, all fruits and vegetables have very little or no salt in their fresh, natural state. In fact, some produce has so little salt that they are termed sodium free. Canned products, on the other hand, are typically processed with added salt, and even the low-salt varieties of beans and vegetables have more salt than a typical person needs. Some examples of the fruits and vegetables that are considered sodium free include:
- green beans
- Romaine lettuce
- summer squash
Meat and Poultry
Beef, pork, chicken and other meats and poultry provide lots of healthy protein, and they can be low sodium choices if you choose which products to buy with an eye to reducing salt. Processed foods, such as bacon, deli meats and ham may contain lots of sodium. Read the labels carefully on the front and back of chicken or beef packages to see if the food was processed in a saline brine. Choose from the following products:
- fresh, unprocessed beef products
- fresh, unprocessed pork products, such as pork tenderloin
- fresh fish
- fresh poultry, packed without a saline brine
Eggs and Dairy Products
A whole, large egg has only 70 milligrams of sodium. Dairy products are not naturally low-sodium foods, but if you limit portion sizes and pick low-sodium options, you can limit the amount of salt you get. Low-sodium dairy products contain 140 milligrams or less per serving.
Most grains in their whole state — such as brown rice, white rice, bulgur, quinoa and oatmeal — contain almost no salt. Processed, instant oatmeal sold in packets, microwavable popcorn, pretzels, and other processed grains may contain far more salt, so buy the unprocessed varieties of those foods.
Because they contain healthy essential fatty acids and vitamin E, unsaturated fats belong in a healthy diet, and fortunately, many of the foods with these fats also contain very little salt. For example, canola oil, olive oil and almond are just a few of the healthy oils that have so little salt that they’re considered essentially sodium-free.
In the real world, it’s difficult to avoid highly salted processed foods completely. But if you read labels to find the amount of sodium per serving, it is possible to minimize the damage. Choose from these foods:
- low-sodium versions of any food, from canned beans, to cereals, broths, breads, cheese and condiments
- frozen vegetables without sauces
- items with the least amount of sodium listed on the label for that type of food, such as cold cereals or spaghetti sauces
- foods listing 35 milligrams or less sodium per serving on the label, which fall into the very low sodium category
Read labels to help ensure that you choose low-salt foods. When cooking, don’t forget to use fresh herbs and spices with a generous hand to add flavor without salt.