When you first start low sodium living, the idea of eating out at a restaurant can seem daunting. How can you possibly know how much salt the kitchen staff is using? Many restaurants make their menu’s nutritional information available online, but most don’t. In order to eat out on a low sodium diet, it’s important to learn how to read restaurant menus to identify sodium-heavy dishes to avoid and lower sodium dishes you can enjoy. Here are a few tips to help you eat out on a low sodium diet.
If you’re planning a special dinner out, call the restaurant ahead or ask when you make a reservation if a low or no-sodium meal is possible. The staff will likely appreciate the advance notice and may be willing to prepare something special for you. If a sodium-free meal is not an option – not all restaurant kitchens have the staff or time to prepare a custom meal – ask for the restaurant’s recommendations on dishes made with less salt.
Ask for No Added Salt
Even if the restaurant can’t make a custom salt-free meal for you, you can ask when you place your order if they can not add additional salt to your meal as they prepare or finish it.
Avoid the Salt Shaker
Ignore the salt shaker on the table! You should do this at home, as well, but especially in a restaurant. As a former restaurant kitchen line cook, I can attest to the fact that the amounts of salt used to cook food in a professional kitchen is more than what most home cooks would use.
Eat Smaller Portions
Most restaurant portions are larger, sometimes even twice the size of a regular portion of food. This is not a time to be a member of the clean plate club. Ask for half your meal to be packed up for you to take home or share your meal with your friends or family. Reducing your portion size will reduce the amount of sodium you’re eating.
Skip the Salty Sides
As much as you might love french fries or chips, they should not be making regular appearances on your low sodium diet. Replace them with a small salad or vegetables with no salt instead.
Get Your Sauce on the Side
Channel Sally, Meg Ryan’s picky character from When Happy Met Sally (Yes, I’m old.) and ask for sauces to be served on the side or skip them altogether. Sauces are often very high in sodium because they’re typically made with high sodium ingredients like chicken or beef stock. If you can’t resist the sauce, having it served to you on the side will allow you to dip your food instead of having your meal served in a pool of sauce.
Learn Menu Buzzwords
Certain foods, cooking terms and techniques are traditionally made with lots of salt. Words like barbecued, smoked, cured (bacon) and brined (pickles) should set off your sodium alarms along with broth or stock, soy sauce or any Asian style foods.
BYOC – Bring Your Own Condiments
Condiments like mayo, ketchup, mustard and salad dressings are typically high in sodium, though you can find reduced or no salt added versions in grocery stores. Buy small bottles or fill small plastic containers with your favorite low sodium or no salt added condiments and stash them in your purse or bag. Patti LaBelle and Beyoncé carry hot sauce in their purse so you’ll be in good company and you’ll keep your sodium intake down.
Don’t Fill Up on Bread
Ask your server to skip the bread basket and choose a meal without bread, if possible. Bread is notoriously high in sodium. One slice of French bread can contain as much as 425 mg of sodium – so it’s best to skip it and save your sodium mgs for your main course.
Don’t Be a Frequent Fryer
Fried foods are notoriously high in sodium in large part due to the amount of salt added to the breading. Fried foods are also higher in calories and fats, which are not healthy choices for your low sodium, heart healthy diet. Choose menu items that are roasted, steamed, grilled, baked or broiled for a healthier option.
You can still enjoy dining with friends and family once you learn how to eat out on a low sodium diet. Bookmark this page so you’ll have these tips and guidelines at the ready the next time you’re eating out.