How to Read Labels for a Low Sodium Diet

What Do Low Sodium Labels Mean?

Learning how to read labels for a low sodium diet is an important first step in taking control of your health and making sure you’re choosing the healthiest options. The salt in your kitchen is not what manufacturers use to season and preserve their products. Since most people get the majority of the sodium they consume by eating processed, prepared or packaged foods, learning to identify sodium in all its variations is key to successfully managing your low sodium diet. 

Salt in Processed and Prepared Foods

Most of us use salt to season food. Manufacturers, who produce food and meals in large quantities use sodium and sodium-filled ingredients not just to add flavor to their products, but also as a preservative to extend their shelf life. On the surface, this might seem like a good idea. The problem lies in the high sodium levels these preservatives contain. While this may not pose an immediate risk to the average consumer, it could prove dangerous to those with heart disease. 

How to Read Labels for a Low Sodium Diet

When you’re reading ingredients on a label it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the mile-long words that can look and sound like a foreign language. The good news is you don’t need to become a chemist to find the hidden sodium. You just need to be able to recognize a few key terms.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) AKA Sodium Glutamate

MSG is a type of sodium used to enhance the flavor in foods. Though it’s most known as a popular ingredient in Chinese food, MSG can also be found in canned foods and processed meats. 

Disodium Phosphate

Disodium phosphate is added to foods like cooked meats, sausages, and baked goods as a preservative. It’s also used to keep foods moist and to give a smooth texture to foods like cheese and carbonated drinks.

Sodium Alginate

You may find sodium alginate on the ingredient labels in dairy products like yogurt and ice cream where it’s used as a stabilizer. It’s used to thicken puddings and jams, prevent moisture loss in meats, and to emulsify salad dressings and beverages.

Sodium Citrate

Sodium citrate is a food additive used to add a sour taste to foods like soft drinks and to smooth processed cheeses.

Sodium Nitrate

Sodium nitrate is used to cure meats so you’ll likely find it on labels of foods like lunch meat, bacon, and hot dogs. Research indicates sodium nitrate can damage arteries, causing them to harden and narrow, a potentially dangerous situation for patients with heart disease.

There are some high sodium ingredients you will recognize. Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, and baking powder, which contains baking soda and an acid. These familiar ingredients may seem harmless but a mere teaspoon of baking soda can contain more than 1,200 mgs of sodium. 

Learning how to read labels for a low sodium diet can seem like a daunting task, but once you learn to identify the secret sodium, by all its names, you’ll be equipped to make the best choices for your family with ease.

Watch the web story here. Download your FREE Weekly Sodium Tracker here. Want to learn more? Check these articles out.

Salt vs Sodium

Why Too Much Sodium is Bad for your Heart

What do Low Sodium Labels Mean?

How to Eat Out on a Low Sodium Diet

How to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet

Additional Resources

American Heart Association

USDA Nutrition

CDC Sodium Info

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2 Comments

  1. So let me ask this after reading the above article….If these hidden sodium ingredeints ARE in a product, are they reflected in the “sodium content” on the label?

    • Hi Kathy! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, even if the sodium is listed in the ingredients under another name it should be included in the sodium content on the nutrition label.

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