The idea of a low sodium diet is to consume less salt. There are many sources of information. Sources may promote a fad or a personal theory. Buyer beware. These resources are scientific and fact based:
- The Low Sodium Program and other resources at Please Don’t Pass the Salt
- What Can I Eat at Hacking Salt.
- The Easy Low-Sodium Diet Plan and Cookbook – available inexpensively as an ebook for Kindle devices and apps).
- The Amercian Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook (4th ed., 2011)
Salt can be avoided or reduced. A product label will identify sodium in almost anything that has been packaged.
Product labels are part of the narrative of a product – it is space paid for by the manufacturer Industry likes to control the narrative. Miller Lite, in commercials “tastes great” and is “less filling”. Campbell Soup advertises its products as full of healthy ingredients. The chunky versions could be eaten with a fork.
The legal definition of food adulteration may be limited to contamination or the use of unsafe ingredients; the law requires food companies to label cheese flavoured products and to admit when processed cheese is not a cheese product.
Mandatory disclosure of ingredients and sources has been contested by the food industry in the United States. American manufacturers and sellers of goods and services assert free speech rights in advertising as commercial free speech. Mandatory labelling is compelled commercial speech. Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 a 1985 decision of the United States Supreme Court, established a constitutional standard where the government can mandate commercial speech, in the form of disclaimers, as long as the information is “purely factual and uncontroversial”, serves a related government interest, and is meant to prevent consumer deception. The lower US federal appellate courts have addressed the content and context of mandatory disclosure:
- fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury – proper [National Electrical Manufacturers Association v. Sorrell, Kassel, (Vermont) 2001];
- graphic depictions of cancerous organs on cigarette packages – improper; [R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA 2012];
- country of origin of meat – proper [American Meat Institute v. US Department of Agriculture 2014];
- jewellery is sourced with blood diamonds – improper [National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC. 2015]
Wine fraud may involve forgery, unsafe ingredients or misleading presentation.
In Europe in 2017-2018, the regional variation of ingredients became a food scandal – the product is not what was expected by the buyer:
- European Commission Press Release September 2017
- Dual Quality of Products Fact Sheet, September 2017
- Same Brand of Pasta (CBC News story)
The conventional disclosure is the quantified ingredient list on the label, a table headed “nutrition facts” in the USA and in Canada. The list is on almost everything that has been processed and packaged. Some authors put the information in recipes in books and magazines. There are databases on the web. For instance this Online Calorie Counter is free and public (i.e. it is not necessary to set up an account and log in). The main data repository is the USDA collection of Food Composition Databases which is comprehensive and powerful but does not seem to have a consumer friendly search interface. Searching for “online calorie” in a search engine brings up a results including some other tools to search for nutrition facts.
The table on the package is usually accurate, but may not present the information in a useful way. The table lists values per serving, based on a small “serving”, and doesn’t state the sodium in a full package. There is a second number – a percentage of the USDA Recommend Daily Allowance per serving. The RDA percentage is useful for some decisions but the RDA is not a prescription or a guaranteed safe allowance – it is high for many people. The serving size can be silly.
The label can identify sodium cooked into a prepared meal..
Finding the sodium in a dish or meal prepared at home involves finding the sodium in each ingredient of each dish. Calculating the sodium in one serving of a soup made with fresh ingredients required adding up all the sodium in the ingredients, estimating the number of servings in the pot and dividing the sodium. Where is the sodium?
- bacon, ham, sausage or prepared meat;
- packaged soup, broth, canned vegetables,
- processed sauces;
- toppings or dressings
Pouring off the juice from canned goods, if that is possible, reduces sodium. For recipes with canned, packaged or pre-cooked ingredients the most effective approach is
- giving up when a recipe requires a can, or even a cup of a branded soup or sauce – that’s a sodium hit in itself;
- salt is added to almost anything for flavour according to recipes and kitchen practice. It is unnecessary to add salt to the cooking water boil potatoes or cook rice;
- if a recipe calls for a saute of onions and other vegetable in bacon, use oil;
- use no added sodium ingredients – checking the label for any sodium. The Eden Organic lines of canned beans were zero sodium for decades; other canners have introduced no sodium lines;
- no salt added is not sodium free but a no salt added product is a better choice than the regular product. For instance no salt added broth has far less sodium than the regular product in a product line;
- Frozen green beans, peas and corn are low in sodium, but not zero sodium;
- Time and energy considered, cooking broth and dry beans may be less expensive and help keep out sodium.
Campbell Soups No Salt Added Chicken Broth has sodium at 40 mg. per serving. RDA percentage 2% (1.7% rounded up). Campbell Soups No Salt Added Vegetable Broth has sodium at 20 mg. per serving RDA percentage 1% (0.86% rounded up). the serving size is 150 milliters or 2/3 of a cup. A 900 milliliter (4 cups) tetrapack of chicken broth has 240 mg. of sodium.The RDA percentage makes it easy to identify the no salt added product as a better choice than the regular choices in the product line. Calculating the sodium per serving of a soup or stew takes a spreadsheet with numbers for each ingredient and a sense of the serving size.
For salad dressing one manufacturer may use a smaller serving size which make the sodium, by RDA percentage, seem lower.
For mayonnaise, the serving size seems to be standardized at 1 tablespoon. But 1 tablespoon may mean 13 or 15 mililiters, and products vary:
- Kraft Real Mayo 70 mg. 3 %
- Kraft (regular) 77 (or 70) mg. 3%
- Kraft Caloriwise Real 90 mg. 4 %
- Kraft Miracle Whip Regular 115 mg. 5%
- Kraft Miracle Whip Caloriwise 140 mg. 6%
- Hellman’s Real 90 mg. 4%
- Hellman’s 1/2 The Fat 135 mg. 6%
- Hellman’s Organic 90 mg. 4%
- Neal Brothers Organic (250 ml glass jar, Canadian, artisinal and expensive) 85 mg. 3%
Mayonnaise has a bad reputation with health inspectors. Mayonnaise made with raw eggs can be a food safety hazard. But mayo is not necessarily the unsafe ingredient when bacteria grow in food.
Squeeze bottles hamper measuring and invite overly generous portions.
Condiments can easily be overserved – It is easy to consume several “servings”. An olive in a Greek salad, or on a pizza, or in a martini adds a few hundred mg. sodium.
There are several pepper sauces (e.g. Frank’s Red Hot), with 180 mg. of sodium per teaspoon. “Traditional” McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce has 35 mg. per teaspoon. Other Tabasco Sauce brands (e.g. Louisana Gold) are up to 175-200 mg.