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How Can I Follow a Low Sodium Diet?

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Updated June 18, 2014

Question: How Can I Follow a Low Sodium Diet?
Salt -- a crystalline substance made of sodium and chlorine that's used for seasoning food. Sounds rather benign, right? So why do so many health care providers tell us to follow a low sodium diet?
Answer:

The truth is, eating a diet high in sodium contributes to many health concerns, such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. And, because excess sodium may cause fluid retention and weight gain, COPD patients may experience a worsening of dypsnea, or shortness of breath if they consume a diet high in sodium.

While a low-sodium diet isn't specifically recommended for people who have ONLY COPD, it may be recommended if you have, or are at risk for, these other issues, as many people with COPD often are (oftentimes due to a history of smoking).

Here are some tips to reduce sodium in your diet and improve your health:

Subdue Your Salt Shaker

Oh, the temptation of shaking that salt shaker into every meal that we make. Don't do it. Many of the foods we eat already contain an over-abundance of salt. Adding more only increases your risk of sodium-related complications.

Use Alternative Flavoring

You'd be surprised at how delicious your foods can taste when sprinkled with some sweet basil or aromatic anise. Experiment with different herbs and spices until you find one that suits your fancy. For an added treat, grow your own herb garden.

Read Labels With a Discerning Eye

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily reference value (DRV) for sodium is a mere 2,400 milligrams. Keep in mind, however, that this generally applies to healthy adults and not those who have a chronic illness. The next time you go shopping, use a discerning eye when reading food labels. Avoid foods that contain a sodium content of greater than 300 milligrams per serving.

Pick Apart the Ingredients in Food

High sodium foods may not always be labeled as containing salt or sodium. Some may contain sodium compounds such as:
  • Monosodium glutamate (more commonly known as MSG)
  • Baking soda or baking powder
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite
  • Sodium alginate

Be mindful of these ingredients and try to make healthier food choices.

Choose Fresh as Opposed to Processed

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods, such as canned goods or luncheon meats. Buy fresh and frozen meat, chicken or fish that has not been injected with a sodium type of solution. If you're not sure, ask your butcher for help.

Contain Your Condiments

Did you know that one tablespoon of ketchup (my favorite) contains 190 milligrams of sodium? Condiments like dips, relishes, mustard, ketchup and salad dressings are packed with sodium -- something to keep in mind when you are adorning your favorite foods with them.

In addition to following a low sodium diet, remember that water is a natural diuretic and generally speaking, wherever water goes, sodium follows. Be sure to drink at least 8, eight ounce glasses every day, unless you are told otherwise.

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