Healthy Eating

Is Low Sodium Really Low Sodium?

Talking about changing eating habits is one thing. Really doing it is another. Sodium. Let’s discuss.

Salt. Sodium. This salty topic comes up in conversation regularly, so I’ve written about salt, talked about salt, thought about salt to provide some perspective.

The short answer to the title question is yes-ish. Ever see “not a low sodium food” on a product label? It’s actually to help you, not make you mad. It’s lower in comparison to the original. I snapped these pics of the soy sauce in my own fridge to show you what I mean. There is information to show you that they are comparing it to regular soy sauce. One might call this a step in the right direction in regards to reducing sodium. You can use smaller portions, too.


I know…Like any relationship can be, it’s complicated. We’re going to untangle it a bit here, because there are loads of good resources that talk about the planning and importance of reducing excess salt. Great tools to help you with reading labels, yet it can still feel tricky to actually get the information into practice as you try to shop and eat in a different way.

Health is complex. The unique needs of every person are important, and some of the “helpful advice” is only helpful if it is helpful for you. Like if you have multiple health conditions and/or medication(s). Be sure to follow all directions from your doctor and dietitian. This actually helps you filter the noise of the internet into something more relevant for your own needs.

There are a few things you can do to wrap your brain around all this. First, let’s have a peek at where we get the most salt in our food:

salt, sodium, dietary guidelines
From Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, Chapter 2: Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns

So what this means for you is figuring out where the most excess salt is in your personal current intake, and then tweak from there to focus on a starting point.

chef with spices and herbsHere’s the part where I tell you that your taste buds will adjust to less salt over time, so don’t worry about flavor. Plus you can start having fun with herbs and spices.

Your checklist:

  1. Review your condiments and cooking techniques. Are there easy places to pull out salt? Perhaps some of your favorite “extras” don’t need to be so “extra”. Reduce portions, find a lower sodium alternative of the same thing or a new favorite.
  2. Really “get” the labels. They can be a source of frustration until you know the rules of the game, so to speak. There is a chart below to help you with this. Note that “reduced” and “light” reference the original product. This can make it tricky when looking at different items within different brands, so take it with a grain of salt. (It’s ok to smile even when a topic is serious).
  3. Get good at questions. When you go out to eat, ask about salt in the sauces so you can get the best for you. Get dressings and condiments on the side. Get good at knowing words that mean they might be salty things, like “brine”.
  4. Look for the American Heart Association Heart Check Mark. They’ve done some of the work for you by reviewing the overall “heart healthiness” of items. Not every product that qualifies has gone through their process, but it’s a start and this list I’ve linked to has lots of branded items to get you started.
how to read a label for sodium

This isn’t the end all be all, but it is a way to organize your approach to this. Be cool with asking questions, and if someone gives you resources that don’t quite cut it, speak up. Speaking for myself, I love when someone tells me what works and what doesn’t so we can keep trying things until we land on what’s right.

What’s right for you in terms of shopping and cooking?

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.