Low-salt diets: Eating out

Introduction

For many people, eating out is something they do to relax and socialize. You don't have to give this up when you are on a low-sodium diet, but it is important to be more careful about what you order in a restaurant. Sodium is not just in table salt. You can also find it in sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Asian foods often have MSG as well as soy sauce, which is also very salty. But with some planning and helpful tips, you can still enjoy eating out while limiting the sodium in your diet.

Key points

  • Restaurant foods are usually high in sodium.
  • Most restaurants are willing to prepare your food with less or no sodium, if you ask.
  • Food can still taste good and be low in sodium.
 

If you are on a low-sodium diet, you need to limit your intake of salt and other forms of sodium in the food you eat. Depending on your condition, your doctor will probably limit your sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day. This can be challenging for people who like to eat out, because processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

Test Your Knowledge

The biggest source of sodium in most people's diets is from adding salt to the food.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Processed foods, including restaurant food, are often the biggest source of sodium in our diets.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Sodium causes your body to hold extra water. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse. For example, if you have heart failure, too much sodium makes it harder for your already weakened heart to pump and can lead to sudden heart failure. Fluid may build up in your lungs—making it harder for you to breathe—and in your feet, ankles, legs, and belly. Limiting sodium in your diet will make you feel better.

Test Your Knowledge

Too much sodium may cause your body to hold extra water.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Too much sodium can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Too much sodium can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

It requires extra effort to avoid sodium when you eat out, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add. Here are some ways to avoid sodium when you dine out.

  • Try to choose restaurants where the food is made to order, instead of choosing fast-food or buffet-style restaurants. Before you order, ask how the food is prepared and if the restaurant offers low-sodium menu items. Often you can ask that your meal be prepared with no added sodium.
  • Most fast-food restaurants have nutrition information available, including sodium content. If you do eat at a fast-food restaurant, ask for the nutrition information and choose lower-sodium items.
  • Ethnic foods, such as Asian or Mexican, often have lots of sodium. You don't always have to give up these foods, but ask the server to help you make lower-sodium choices.
  • When you eat out, try to eat very low-sodium items the rest of the day. This will help you stay within your sodium limit for the day.

Learn what food items are okay and which ones to avoid. For example, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has more than 1,000 mg of sodium, and 1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,000 mg of sodium. You can use the following list and bring it with you to the restaurant. You may be able to substitute low-salt or fresh menu items for those with higher sodium content.

Tips for eating out
Foods to avoid Instead, choose or ask for...

Smoked, cured, and salted meat, fish, and poultry

Fresh, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled meat, fish, or poultry

Ham, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cheese

Fresh roasted pork, turkey, or chicken

Canned vegetables

Fresh steamed vegetables with no added salt. (Assume that cooked vegetables have added salt unless you ask for them to be prepared without it.)

Condiments, such as pickles, olives, tartar sauce, and ketchup

Sliced cucumbers, malt vinegar, or low-sodium ketchup and mustard

Sauces, including soy sauce, tomato sauce, au jus, and gravy

Low-sodium soy sauce, olive oil

Salad dressings

Oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or low-sodium dressing

Fast foods, including french fries, pizza, and tacos

Plain baked potato, grilled chicken sandwich

Soups and broths

Salads without croutons, bacon, cheese, or olives

Any drink that contains tomato juice, V-8, or Clamato. This includes alcoholic drinks like Bloody Marys.

Orange juice, other citrus juices, or soft drinks

Fried or seasoned rice

Steamed plain rice. (Asian restaurants often add salt to steamed rice. Be sure to ask for steamed rice without added salt.)

Pasta with tomato sauce

Pasta tossed in olive oil or with fresh tomatoes

Ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and angel food cake are all lower-sodium dessert choices.

Test Your Knowledge

When you are on a low-sodium diet, you can't eat out, because restaurant food has too much sodium.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You can eat out when you are on a low-sodium diet. But it does require extra effort, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You can eat out when you are on a low-sodium diet. But it does require extra effort, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add.

  •  

Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you can make low-sodium food choices when you eat out. Talk with your health professional about the changes to your diet. He or she may have more suggestions and tips on how to avoid sodium when you eat out. You may also want to meet with a registered dietitian for more ideas about a healthful diet for you.

If you would like more information on eating out when you are on a low-sodium diet, the following resources are available:

Organizations

American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address: www.americanheart.org
 

Call the American Heart Association (AHA) to find your nearest local or state AHA group. AHA can provide brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support. AHA's Web site also has information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions.


National Institutes of Health Senior Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD  20892
Phone: (301) 496-4000
E-mail: custserv@nlm.nih.gov
Web Address: www.NIHSeniorHealth.gov
 

This Web site for older adults offers aging-related health information. The Web site's senior-friendly features include large print, simple navigation, and short, easy-to-read segments of information. A visitor to this Web site can click special buttons to hear the text aloud, make the text larger, or turn on higher contrast for easier viewing.

The site was developed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIHSeniorHealth features up-to-date health information from NIH. Also, the American Geriatrics Society provides independent review of some of the material found on this Web site.


Return to topic:

Last Updated: August 25, 2008

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.